McAuliffe celebrates gubernatorial primary win in Tysons as Fairfax County voter turnout dips

As Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” blasted through the ballroom, Terry McAuliffe, former and potentially future governor of Virginia, took the stage at the Hilton hotel in Tysons shortly before 9 p.m. on Tuesday (June 8) to celebrate his victory in the 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

McAuliffe easily surged past four other candidates to clinch his party’s nomination, winning 62% of the vote in a race that the Associated Press called just 44 minutes after polls closed across the state.

Unofficial returns show that Fairfax County joined the rest of the Commonwealth in backing McAuliffe’s bid for a third term as governor. 64.4% of primary voters cast a ballot for him, followed by 19.3% supporting former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who also came in second statewide.

“We launched this campaign about six months ago on a simple idea: that Virginia has some very big challenges ahead,” McAuliffe said in his victory speech. “And I’ve said we’ve got to go big, we gotta be bold, and we need seasoned leadership to move us forward and lift up all Virginians.”

Pledging to “build back a better, stronger Virginia,” McAuliffe quickly pivoted to the general election looming on Nov. 2, when he will compete with Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, who he aligned with former President Donald Trump.

He will be joined on the Democratic ticket by Prince William Del. Hala Ayala, who will face Republican Winsome Sears in a lieutenant governor race that will put a woman of color in a statewide office for the first time in Virginia history.

The Virginia Department of Elections’ unofficial results show Ayala winning by more than 13 percentage points statewide in a race that featured six candidates, but her margin of victory was closer in Fairfax County. She only won by about 5% over runner-up Del. Sam Rasoul, who became the legislature’s first Muslim member in 2014.

Mark Herring won the Democratic nomination for attorney general in his attempt for a third term. He won by about 13% state-wide over Del. Jay Jones, but was overwhelmingly favored by Fairfax County voters. Herring won by more than 40 percentage points in the county.

In the General Assembly races, incumbent Del. Kathleen Murphy prevailed over challenger Jennifer Adeli in the contest for the 34th House District seat, which represents northern McLean and the Great Falls area.

“It was a great win and I am delighted to have received such strong support across the district,” Murphy said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “I look forward to continuing to work on  behalf of my constituents and represent the issues that are important to them. I am especially focused on getting our kids safely back in school, increasing teacher pay, re-opening our businesses and continuing to support our veterans and stand up for gun safety measures.”

Republican Gary Pan is seeking to unseat Murphy in November, when Tysons area voters will also get contests between incumbent Del. Mark Keam and Republican challenger Kevin McGrath for the 35th District (Vienna), Del. Rip Sullivan (D) and Edward Monroe for the 48th District (McLean), and Del. Marcus Simon (D) and Sarah White for the 53rd District (Falls Church).

According to the Fairfax County Office of Elections, overall turnout was down with 82,503 ballots cast, representing 11.1% of the county’s 741,777 active, registered voters. In comparison, 94,036 people — 13.4% of 699,507 active registered voters — voted in the 2017 Democratic primary, the last time there was a governor’s race.

Notably, 2017 featured a Republican primary as well as a Democratic one, whereas this year, the GOP opted for a convention to determine its nominees in the statewide races. The 2017 primary had a voter turnout rate of 5.5% with 38,531 ballots cast.

The county elections office says additional votes could come in this week, though likely not enough to significantly raise the turnout rate. Ballots returned in drop boxes on the day of the primary had not been counted as of yesterday morning, and mailed ballots are still valid as long as they were mailed by Tuesday and are received by noon on Friday (June 11).

However, the 2021 Democratic primary saw about three times as many early voters as the last off-year primary, says Fairfax County General Registrar Scott Konopasek, who attributes the shift to the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting and other changes in state law.

“While turnout was down compared to the 2017 primary, the changes in state law since have it made it easier for voters to cast their ballot early in person or by mail,” he said. “Four years ago, voters needed a reason to vote early, and now any voter can do so.”

City of Falls Church Director of Elections and General Registrar David Bjerke says early voters actually made up a smaller portion of the ballots cast in the primary than he anticipated.

“What did surprise me is that most voters voted at the their polling place on Election Day,” he said. “Early voting is new to Virginia but most voters took advantage of it during the last election which was the presidential. I figured more voters would continue to take advantage of it.”

Overall, 1,670 of the city’s 10,175 active, registered voters participated in Tuesday’s election, a 16.4% turnout, according to preliminary results from the City of Falls Church Electoral Board.

Bjerke says about 11% of those voters went to one of the city’s three polling precincts on the day of the primary, while 5% cast absentee ballots. He speculates that the reversion to in-person, day-of voting could be a product of the COVID-19 pandemic receding and “voters not seeing a big enough difference between candidates.”

“It could be voters just wanted to wait until Election Day and return to voting the way they are used to and also get more information for a candidate to support,” Bjerke said. “My guess is that early voting will be much a much higher percentage of the ballots cast in the General Election no matter the state of the pandemic. The choices have narrowed and more voters will consider that the more important election.”

Matt Blitz contributed to this report.

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