The supercharged gubernatorial race in Virginia between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin was in the hands of election officials Tuesday an hour after polls closed.
Reports suggested turnout was up across Virginia and would set a new record for gubernatorial elections in the state, giving both parties a sense of hope.
The hotly contested battle was being billed as a referendum on President Biden’s first term in office, as well as on Democratic control of Richmond.
Democrats, meanwhile, sought to make the race a referendum on former President Donald Trump, and they aggressively worked to tie Mr. Youngkin to the former president.
With 34% of the vote counted, Mr. Youngkin had a 54.3% to 45.1% lead over Mr. McAuliffe.
Polls closed at 7 p.m.
The early vote totals showed Mr. Youngkin running strong in the rural areas of the state and competing in key suburban battlegrounds.
There was also reason for optimism in the McAuliffe camp thanks to big turnout in Northern Virginia, where the results typically come in later in the evening.
Early results from Fairfax County showed Mr. McAuliffe with a bid lead.
Mr. McAuliffe served as governor from 2014 to 2018. Mr. Youngkin is a former private equity CEO and a political newcomer.
Mr. Biden carried the state by 10 percentage points a year ago but his job-approval rating has taken a nosedive nationally and in Virginia.
Mr. Youngkin was outperforming Mr. McAuliffe among independent voters by a 52% to 47% margin, according to the exit polls.
Preliminary exit polls showed Mr. Biden’s approval rating was underwater with the electorate, with 43% approving of his job performance and 56% disapproving. Nearly half of the respondents said Mr. Biden was not a factor in their vote.
The exit polls showed the top issues were the economy and jobs, followed by education, taxes, the coronavirus, and abortion.
Voters said they favor employers requiring coronavirus vaccines at work by 4% to 43%. Over half of respondents said they want a bigger say in their child’s education.
The polls showed more than half of the respondents said the Democratic Party is “too liberal” compared to 30% who said it is just about right. Meanwhile, 43% of voters said the Republican Party is “too conservative” compared to 35% who said it is just about right.
In a promising sign for Mr. Youngkin, the exit polls suggested the electorate was older and whiter than in 2020, demographics that tilt Republican.