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Winsome Sears, former state delegate, wins GOP nomination for Virginia lieutenant governor

Former Virginia delegate Winsome E. Sears (Norfolk) won the Republican nomination for Virginia lieutenant governor on Tuesday. (Winsome Sears)
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A previous version of this article mistakenly reported that Winsome E. Sears’s appliance and plumbing repair store is in Norfolk. The store is in Winchester. The article has been corrected.

RICHMOND — Former Virginia delegate Winsome E. Sears won the Republican Party nomination for lieutenant governor on Tuesday, adding a potentially sharper conservative bent to a statewide ticket headed by former private equity executive Glenn Youngkin as the nominee for governor.

Sears (Norfolk) — a former Marine whose campaign ad shows her gripping an assault rifle — emerged victorious in a ranked-choice balloting process that included five other candidates vying for the second-highest office in the commonwealth.

Born in Jamaica, she has a chance to become the first Black woman to win statewide office in Virginia.

Sears delivered a rousing speech to vote-counters after the results were announced Tuesday evening, surprising them with an appearance in the ballroom of the downtown Marriott in Richmond, where they had counted the ballots.

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"I want you to look at me because you're seeing a walking impossibility," she said. "My father came to this country with $1.75 — from a different culture, a different country, achieved the American Dream. And now I stand before you as an immigrant to say thank you for letting my father in, because it changed the trajectory of our lives. . . . God bless this great country. Let us keep America America, because there's no place else to run to."

During the fifth and final round of tallying, the six-person race was down to Sears and former delegate Timothy D. Hugo (Fairfax). While Hugo briefly pulled ahead as the final count got started, Sears rallied to cinch the nomination.

Hugo conceded just before the results were officially announced, saying he would work to help Sears, Youngkin and Republican attorney general nominee Jason S. Miyares, a state delegate from Virginia Beach, win in the fall.

"While the results are not exactly what I was hoping for tonight, life is good and our cause remains just," Hugo wrote on Twitter.

Sears's addition to the GOP ticket pulls the party even further to the right as it seeks to regain control of Richmond in November, political analysts say.

"The biggest problem for the Republican ticket is the fact that Virginia has been trending blue," said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

"In these very partisan times, Republicans have offered up a pretty partisan slate," he said. "That strategy was very effective for winning a nomination in the party convention. But it may cause problems in the suburbs for these Republican candidates."

Sears's nomination for lieutenant governor — a position that has often been a launchpad for a gubernatorial run — brings her back into the limelight of Virginia politics after she stepped away in the mid-2000s.

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Back then, Sears — a onetime director of a Salvation Army homeless shelter — was a rising star in the state Republican Party, after she defeated longtime Democratic delegate William P. Robinson Jr. (Norfolk) for his seat in 2001.

She served one term in the House, among other things fighting for legislation that would have allowed parents to use public funds to home-school their children or send them to a private school — a cause she again championed in her campaign for lieutenant governor.

But in 2003, Sears chose not to seek reelection. Instead, she launched an unsuccessful congressional bid that year against Democratic Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott.

Sears — who now owns an appliance and plumbing repair store in Winchester — has only recently become politically active again.

In 2018, she launched an unsuccessful write-in campaign geared toward stopping Corey Stewart from winning the party's nomination for U.S. Senate.

Last year, she was the national chair of Black Americans to Re-elect the President, a group geared toward helping President Donald Trump get reelected.

She beat her closest rivals in the race, Hugo and Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (Virginia Beach), by wide margins in the deep-red rural areas of the state that carried more weight in the party's convention count. Three other candidates — Puneet Ahluwalia, a political and business consultant in Fairfax County; Lance Allen, a national security company executive in Fauquier County; and lawyer Maeve Rigler — did not gain much traction in a convention in which about 30,000 Republican delegates cast ballots at 39 sites across the state.

With Sears’s nomination, the party’s statewide ticket is complete. Miyares was named the candidate for attorney general Sunday, while Youngkin was declared the winner of the gubernatorial nomination Monday.

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The duties of lieutenant governor entail presiding over the Senate and taking over as head of the state’s executive branch if the governor resigns or becomes incapacitated.

Sears’s success was somewhat surprising to political observers of the contest, in which Davis and Hugo were the better-financed candidates.

The two men's rivalry clouded the race toward the end, when an anonymous text sent to convention delegates appeared to seek support for Hugo and falsely accused Davis of being "a gay Democrat," while highlighting Davis's support for a repeal of the state's now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage.

The text resembled a Hugo mailer that used the same image of Davis wearing a rainbow-striped shirt at a 2019 LGBTQ festival while calling him too liberal. But Hugo said the anonymous message didn’t come from him, calling it “ridiculous and offensive,” and he expressed support for a defamation lawsuit filed by Davis that seeks to learn who was behind it.

Olivo reported from Washington.