Glenn Youngkin beats Terry McAuliffe to claim Virginia governorship: reports
The Virginia governor's race between Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe (right) and Republican tycoon Glenn Youngkin is squarely in toss-up territory

Glenn Youngkin defeated Terry McAuliffe in a tight skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden's political brand, according to several news agencies.

A harbinger of the parties' prospects in next year's midterm elections, the race between Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican tycoon Glenn Youngkin narrowed in recent weeks.

"At this point, the outcome of this race will all depend on voter turnout," McAuliffe said in an 11th hour mailout to voters late Monday.

"Republicans are fired up to elect their guy, and now, with Donald Trump rallying up his base of right-wing extremists on the eve of election day, Glenn Youngkin is sure to have a strong showing tomorrow."

As he tried to mount a return to an office he held four years ago, McAuliffe had to negotiate significant headwinds, with the majority party in Washington usually incurring losses during a president's first term.

Youngkin has been performing his own high-wire act, as the vast majority of Republicans believe Trump's false claims that the presidency was stolen in a fraudulent election, making acknowledging the truth politically risky.

The wealthy former investment banker, 54, managed to distance himself from Trump at the business end of the campaign, focusing on local "culture war" issues like abortion, mask mandates and the teaching of America's racial history.

"This is a moment for Virginians to push back on this left, liberal, progressive agenda and take our commonwealth back," Youngkin told a rally in state capital Richmond on Monday.

Trump did not show up to campaign in person, and angrily denied a rift with Youngkin and released an incendiary statement on Monday smearing McAuliffe as a "low-life politician who lies, cheats, and steals."

In contrast, a number of other big-name Democrats have wooed Virginians in recent days, including former president Barack Obama, First Lady Jill Biden and the party's rising star Stacey Abrams.

'Soccer dad'

McAuliffe took an early lead in the race but his seven-point cushion had been tightening since summer.

Leaning into his image as the establishment candidate, McAuliffe sold himself as a former incumbent who brought back jobs after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, and pledged to repeat the trick for the pandemic.

The 64-year-old sought to nationalize the race -- voicing irritation over deadlock in Washington and making the vote a referendum on Trump and Trumpism.

Biden joined McAuliffe in Arlington last week, blasting Youngkin as "an acolyte of Donald Trump" and warning that extremism "can come in a smile and a fleece vest."

Mark Bayer, a congressional aide for two decades and a former chief of staff to Senator Ed Markey, warned that convincing Virginians that Youngkin is nothing more than a Trump mini-me would prove a tall order.

"Despite being endorsed by Trump and making strongly positive statements about him, Youngkin -- at least stylistically, if not politically -- doesn't appear to be a Trump clone," Bayer told AFP.

"Youngkin's 'soccer dad' persona is appealing to swing voters, even as his conservative politics are firmly Republican."

(with additional reporting from AFP)