Winsome Sears, an immigrant, a Marine Corps veteran, and now the first black woman elected lieutenant governor in Virginia, delivered a triumphant and patriotic speech at Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin's victory party early Wednesday, claiming victory in her own right after Tuesday's election.
"I'm telling you that what you are looking at is the American dream," Sears said, with her husband and two daughters standing beside her.
Sears, a Jamaican immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, previously made history as the first black Republican woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2002, defeating a 20-year Democratic incumbent. She served one term before unsuccessfully running for Congress in 2004.
Now, she's made history again by defeating Democrat Hala Ayala in Virginia's lieutenant governor race, winning an estimated 51% of the vote Tuesday.
Prior to entering politics, Sears was the director of a Salvation Army homeless shelter. She also owns an appliance repair store in Virginia and has previously served as vice president of the Virginia Board of Education.
In her speech, Sears celebrated the progress the United States has made on civil rights for non-white Americans and immigrants since her father came to the U.S. in 1963 with just "$1.75" in his pocket.
"I am not even first-generation American," Sears said. "When I joined the Marine Corps, I was still a Jamaican. But this country had done so much for me, I was willing to die for this country."
She then led the jubilant crowd in a "USA" chant before continuing.
Winsome Sears to be Virginia's first woman of color to serve as Lt Govwww.youtube.com
"I say to you, there are some who want to divide us and we must not let that happen. They would like us to believe we are back in 1963 when my father came. We can live where we want. We can eat what we want. We own the water fountains. We've had a black president elected not once, but twice, and here I am, living proof," Sears said, to wild cheers.
"In case you haven't noticed, I am black. And I have been black all my life, but that's not what this is about," she continued.
"What we are going to do is we are going to now be about the business of the Commonwealth," she said. "We have things to tend to. We are going to fully fund our historically black colleges and universities. ... We're going to have safer neighborhoods, safer communities, and our children are going to get a good education. Because education lifted my father out of poverty, education lifted me out of poverty, education will lift us all out of poverty. We must have marketable skills so that our children can not just survive but they will thrive, and they will create generational wealth. That's what this is about."
"I didn't run to make history," Sears said. "I just wanted to leave it better than I found it."
Sears' victory is part of a Republican sweep of Virginia's statewide races, with Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin defeating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe for governor and Republican Del. Jason Miyares defeating incumbent Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring in that race.
Republicans have not won any of these statewide races since 2009.
As of Wednesday morning, the GOP also appeared to be on track to capture control of the House of Delegates.