‘I Look Like the Strategy’: Winsome Sears Wants Black Voters to Rethink the GOP

Winsome Sears, Virginia’s lieutenant governor-elect, preparing to preside over a session of the Virginia State Senate at the capitol in Richmond. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times) RICHMOND, Va. — On a December afternoon, Winsome Sears, Virginia’s lieutenant governor-elect, stood at the podium in the state Senate chamber where she will soon preside. It was empty but for a few clerks and staffers who were walking her through a practice session, making pretend motions and points of order. Sears followed along as the clerks explained arcane Senate protocols, although she occasionally raised matters that weren’t in the script.

“What if they’re making a ruckus?” Sears asked her tutors.

Then, a clerk said, pointing to the giant wooden gavel at Sears’ right hand, you bang that. Sears smiled.

That she was standing here at all was an improbability built upon unlikelihoods. Her campaign was a long shot, late in starting, skimpily funded and repeatedly overhauled. The political trajectory that preceded it was hardly more auspicious: She appeared on the scene 20 years ago, winning a legislative seat in an upset, but after one term and a quixotic bid for Congress, she disappeared from electoral politics. She briefly surfaced in 2018, announcing a write-in protest against Virginia’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, but this earned her little beyond a few curious mentions in the press.

Yet, just three years later, she is the lieutenant governor-elect, having bested two veteran lawmakers for the Republican nomination and become the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia history. She will take office Jan. 15, along with Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin.

The focus on Sears’ triumph, in news profiles and in the post-election crowing of conservative pundits, has been on the rare combination of her biography and politics: a Black woman, an immigrant and an emphatically conservative, Trump-boosting Republican.

“The message is important,” Sears, 57, said over a lunch of Jamaican oxtail with her transition team at a restaurant near the state Capitol. “But the messenger is equally important.”

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