Virginia Closer to Electing its First Woman of Color Lieutenant Governor
Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu via Getty Images

Virginia held its Democratic Primary Election on Tuesday, yielding a victory for one of several women of color candidates who sought to lead the Commonwealth.

Hala Ayala, the first Afro-Latina elected to Virginia’s General Assembly, won the June 8 primary, advancing in her quest to become the state’s next Lieutenant Governor. If successful in the General Election in November, she stands to make history as Virginia’s first woman and its first Afro-Latina Lt. Governor.

“Thank you to the voters who believed in our vision and voted to make history tonight,” Ayala said in her victory speech. “I will work every day to make sure that you, Virginia families, have a seat at the table, instead of being on the menu.”

Ayala, who has Afro-Latino, Lebanese and Irish roots, currently represents the 51st District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She’s spoken of humble family beginnings and life struggles. When she was pregnant and working a job that didn’t offer health insurance, she qualified for Medicaid which provided health care for her and her son. As a single working mom, Ayala went on to build a career as a cybersecurity specialist with the Department of Homeland Security. She later completed her college degree online while working full time. In 2017, Ayala ran for office and won the Delegate’s race against a four-term Republican incumbent.

Emily Cain, executive director of EMILY’s List which backed the candidate, said in a statement the organization was “thrilled” about Ayala’s victory. “Hala is a trailblazer who, after becoming the first Afro-Latina elected to the Virginia House, has worked tirelessly for reproductive freedom, expanding Medicaid, raising teacher pay, and strengthening gun safety measures. Hala is a champion for women and families.”

Glynda C. Carr, the President and CEO of Higher Heights for America, congratulated their endorsed candidate.

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“Hala is a leader meant for this moment. She has shown a deep commitment to ensuring the voices of marginalized communities are represented and we are excited about continuing to support her in her race to become part of the growing movement of Black women running and winning for statewide executive offices across the nation,” said Carr. “Of the 95 women across the country that currently hold statewide executive office, 19 of them or 20 percent are women of color. We look forward to helping ensure Hala will be added to this number.”

Two Black women–former Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and State Senator Jennifer McClellan–sought the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia. According to unofficial results, Carroll Foy received more than 95,000 votes (about 20 percent) and McClellan more than 56,000 votes (12 percent). Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, the state’s first Black man in that role, received more than 17,00 votes.

The race went to Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chair who previously served as Virginia’s Governor from 2014 to 2018. His campaign had Black women serving in key leadership positions. McAuliffe is expected to face Republican Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor who has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump.

In a statement, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison congratulated both McAuliffe “on his hard-won success in winning our party’s nomination to be the next governor of Virginia,” and Lieutenant Governor nominee Hala Ayala. 

“Over the last several years in the Commonwealth, we’ve seen what happens when Democrats take charge: more people have good-paying jobs and access to affordable health care, it becomes easier — not harder — for their voices to be heard at the ballot box, and schools and homes become safer thanks to commonsense gun safety laws,” said Harrison. 

Princess Blanding, an educator, activist and independent candidate with the new Liberation Party is among the Black women with gubernatorial aspirations in Virginia. Her campaign previously told ESSENCE she is seeking the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot for the General Election on November 2, 2021.  

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