Hala Ayala, part Lebanese-American, wins Democratic primary for lieutenant governor race in Virginia

Hala Ayala, part Lebanese-American, wins Democratic primary for lieutenant governor race in Virginia
Hala Ayala, whose parents both have Arab backgrounds, has won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in Virginia.
2 min read
Washington, D.C.
10 June, 2021
A polling station in Virginia (Getty Images)

Hala Ayala, whose mother has Lebanese heritage, won the Democratic Party's primaries for lieutenant governor in Virginia on Tuesday evening. If she wins the general election in November, she will become the first woman of colour to win state-wide office in Virginia.

This race, like the primaries for governor that were held at the same time, was hard fought among a crowded pool of dynamic and outspoken candidates, attracting media attention far beyond the state. Ayala and runner-up Sam Rasoul were considered among the most liberal of the seven candidates, and her win is seen among many in the left wing of the Democratic Party as a balance to the win of the more moderate Terry McAuliffe. Both were endorsed by outgoing Governor Ralph Northam.

In a statement on her campaign website Tuesday evening, Ayala said, “We must protect the progress we have made from extremists like Winsome Sears. Sears and her extreme far-right running mates have repeatedly advocated for stripping Virginians of their voting rights, defunding our public school system, and gutting affordable healthcare for more than half-million Virginians.”

Ayala was referring to Winsome Sears, who had just won the Republican primary for the lieutenant governor’s race, whom she will face in the general election on November 2. Sears' main campaign platform, according to her website, includes restricting abortion, protecting gun rights, parental school choice (which often means reducing funding for district schools), and tightening voting requirements. She has described Ayala as a 'radical leftist'.  

Ayala, a cybersecurity expert who currently serves as deputy whip as a state delegate, has campaigned on healthcare, education, wider broadband access, and women’s rights. She has also used the story of her personal background to engage voters. Her mother’s background is Irish and Lebanese, while her father was an immigrant from El Salvador with North African roots.

Virginia, which was until around 10 years ago a Republican-leaning state, has now become almost reliably Democratic. Much of this change can be attributed to immigration, largely from the Middle East and South Asia. In recent years, a number of progressive candidates from these backgrounds have won local elections. 

Brooke Anderson is The New Arab's correspondent in Washington D.C., covering US and international politics, business and culture.