FAIRFAX, Virginia: Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor's election on Wednesday (Nov 3) and another Republican was within striking distance of doing the same in New Jersey, a warning that President Joe Biden's Democrats are at a disadvantage heading into next year's congressional elections.
Youngkin, who surged in the polls in the campaign's final weeks, beat former governor Terry McAuliffe, CNN and NBC projected.
A former private equity executive who has never held elected office, Youngkin sold himself as a political outsider while seeking to rally suburban voters around hot-button issues like how to handle the discussion of racism in schools and COVID-19 mask mandates.
Meanwhile, Republican Jack Ciattarelli held a narrow lead in the New Jersey governor's race over incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy with approximately 80 per cent of the vote counted, though some Democratic strongholds were still counting ballots.
The results in two states that Biden won easily last year over Donald Trump represent a dire sign for Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms, which will decide control of the United States Congress - and with it, the future of Biden's policy agenda.
Polls leading up to Election Day showed that Youngkin closed the gap with McAuliffe by appealing to independent voters - a group that was alienated in 2020 by Trump's firebrand style of politics but was more drawn to Youngkin's congenial manner - despite McAuliffe's attempts to link Youngkin to the former president.
"Comparing him to president Trump really didn't resonate with me," Jacob McMinn, a programme manager at a defence contractor, said after casting his vote for the Republican in Fairfax, just outside Washington.
Trump, meanwhile, sought to claim credit for Youngkin's victory.
"I would like to thank my BASE for coming out in force and voting for Glenn Youngkin. Without you, he would not have been close to winning," he said in one of three statements about the race on Tuesday.
Youngkin will succeed outgoing Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat. Under Virginia state law, governors cannot serve consecutive terms. McAuliffe, 64, served as governor from 2014 to 2018.
The Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and state attorney general were also leading their races in Virginia, while Republicans appeared to have flipped five seats in the state House of Delegates, creating a 50-50 tie. The state Senate, which Democrats control, did not have any elections this year.
The contest between Youngkin and McAuliffe focused heavily on US culture wars.
Youngkin declared himself an advocate for parents who want to have a say in school curriculums, a message designed to appeal specifically to suburban voters, for whom education is an important issue.
He leaned into the Republican Party's expressions of outrage over the discussion of systemic racism in schools. He vowed to ban the teaching of "critical race theory", a legal framework that examines how racism shapes US laws and policies, ignoring the fact that Virginia schools do not teach the subject.
Youngkin's agenda also centred on issues that Republicans anticipate will drive voter turnout in 2022, such as public safety, election integrity and freedom from COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates.
Youngkin drew sharp criticism from Democrats when he initially hesitated to denounce Trump's insistence that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him, false claims that have continued to rile his supporters and led to a mob of Trump supporters attacking the US Capitol on Jan 6.
Youngkin said later that Biden had won legitimately, but then called for an audit of Virginia's voting machines, a move that prompted Democrats to accuse him of validating Trump's election conspiracy theories.
In New York, Brooklyn borough president and former police captain Eric Adams, a Democrat, will become the city's second black mayor after easily beating Republican Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels civilian street patrol.
A year and a half after George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white policeman, Minneapolis voters rejected a ballot measure that would have replaced the police department with a new public safety agency.