Of all the improbable outcomes in this week’s elections, a couple struck me as worthy of a Hollywood movie script. Ed Durr, the truck driver who toppled the New Jersey State Senate president after spending just $153 was one.
But an even more inspirational, and almost as implausible, script could be fashioned from the story of Winsome Earle Sears, a 57-year-old Virginia mother of three, who by being elected Virginia’s lieutenant governor became the first female minority and naturalized citizen ever elected statewide. CNN and MSNBC ignored her memorable Election Night victory statement, but Fox didn’t:
Lieutenant Governor Elect Winsome Sears: "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…In case you haven’t noticed, I am black, and I have been black all my life." pic.twitter.com/NoJJc6qxBe
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) November 3, 2021
Her “Winsome vs Goliath” story will no doubt now make her a fixture on the lecture circuit. Devoutly religious, an aimless Sears was born in Jamaica and grew up in the Bronx. When she was 18 her Jamaican grandmother died and she took it as a sign she had to make something of herself. She joined the Marines, became an electrician and diesel mechanic, and learned that “you don’t get respect there unless you dig your own ditch.”
After three years she left with many commendations and then married a Marine first lieutenant, moving back with him to his home town of Norfolk, Virginia. She began raising three children. After a job in banking, she had another sign that she should help others, and she became director of the Hope Center, a Salvation Army homeless shelter for mothers and their children. After two years, she left to become a graduate student at Regent University. Then in 2001, Republicans had no candidate to run in a redrawn 58 percent black House district in Norfolk that was represented by Delegate William P. Robison, an incumbent who had served 20 years in office.
Robinson, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, was flush with cash from special interests. Two months before the election, his campaign had $34,000 in the bank; she had $77. Then Robinson, a Harvard-educated criminal-defense lawyer, was found in contempt of court for missing a criminal hearing and sentenced to five days in jail. He served one day and was freed pending appeal. He also faced contempt-of-court hearings in at least two other cases.
Sears walked much of her district to meet voters, by all accounts more than living up to her first name.
But her views quickly came under attack. She says she lost the endorsement of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot when she told them she was “a Christian first and a Republican second.” Then the campaign turned ugly, with threats and intimidation. “Because I was a Republican, I was told I wasn’t black enough,” says the richly dark-skinned Sears. Phone calls featuring the sound of military boots would be made to her home late at night. She says that Michael F. Muhammad, head of the New Black Panthers Party, cursed and threatened her.
The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reported that Muhammad was “one of Robinson’s most visible supporters” and just before the election a warrant was issued for his arrest on a stalking charge brought by Sears. Muhammad surrendered and was released on $2,500 bail. Robinson said he disavowed Muhammad’s hateful comments about whites and Jews and that he didn’t work for him.
Throughout all this the ex-Marine never stopped walking precincts, and a late infusion of state party money allowed her to spend $50,000, about half of Robinson’s war chest. The result was a stunning upset. Ms Sears won 53 percent, including 46 percent of the vote in the largely black Norfolk portions of the district.
Sears credited her conversion to the Republican Party to the candidacy of Michael Dukakis for president in 1988, when she was in her twenties. “He would talk about how only government could help the downtrodden lift themselves up and how the right of abortion couldn’t be restricted in any way, shape or form,” she recalls. “I just knew then that I had been a lazy Democrat and I never looked back. I became a Republican.”
Democrats were stunned by her victory, and vowed they would do everything to defeat her for re-election. Sears sidestepped that race and instead ran for Congress against a long-time incumbent. She lost 69 percent to 31 percent.
Sears went back to private life to run her business and finish raising her children.
For a time she served on the Virginia Board of Education. Then this year, a chance to return to public life surfaced. While all eyes were focused on the Virginia race for governor, there was an open seat in the election for lieutenant governor. Because Virginia limits its chief executive to one four-year term, any serving lieutenant governor is automatically on the shortlist to be come the next governor. In addition, the LG breaks ties in the State Senate, where Democrats have currently only a 21 to 19 edge.
Sears was heavily outspent at the convention that nominated the Republican candidate, but won after electrifying the delegates with her speech. “My father came to this country with $1.75 — from a different culture, a different country, achieved the American Dream… God bless this great country. Let us keep America America, because there’s no place else to run to.”
The fall campaign featured Democratic candidate Hala Ayala attacking Sears for opposing lockdown measures imposed by the state’s Democratic governor. Sears was significantly outspent, but found ways to attract attention. She emphasized her support for school choice and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Rural Virginians were thrilled when she posted a profile photo on her Facebook page that showed her posing while holding a large gun.
Sears will likely play a key role in getting newly elected governor Glenn Youngkin’s agenda enacted into law. Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, says she will be “a potential tie-breaking vote in the State Senate on critical policy issues, next in the line of succession to lead the commonwealth and possibly a future gubernatorial nominee.”
Expect to see a lot more of Winsome Sears defying expectations about what a feisty, independent African American in government is supposed to say and do.
John Fund is the co-author of Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote (Encounter).