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Democrat Justin Fairfax wins lieutenant governor's race in Virginia

In this Thursday Oct. 5, 2017 photo Democrat Justin Fairfax gestures during a debate with Republican Virginia State Sen. Jill Vogel, right, at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, and Vogel, a state senator from Fauquier County, are running for lieutenant governor in next month’s election. The post that offers few formal duties other than breaking ties in the state Senate but invariably serves as a launching post for future gubernatorial runs. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) -- Democrat Justin Fairfax has been elected Virginia's next lieutenant governor, a position that often serves as a springboard for future gubernatorial candidates.

Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, on Tuesday defeated Republican Jill Vogel, a Republican state senator from Fauquier County.

Fairfax has never held elective office before. He made his first run for office four years ago, narrowly losing the Democratic nomination for attorney general to Mark Herring.

"I am so grateful for this opportunity," Fairfax said to hundreds of cheering supporters at a statewide victory party at George Mason University in Fairfax. "We are changing the course of history in this commonwealth."

The lieutenant governor post is considered a part-time job and receives a salary just above $36,000 a year. While there are few official duties, the lieutenant governor can cast tiebreaking votes in Virginia's closely divided state Senate.

Fairfax, who served a two-year stint as a federal prosecutor in Alexandria, has long been interested in politics. After graduating from Duke University, he worked as a briefing coordinator for Tipper Gore during her husband Al's 2000 presidential campaign. He also worked on the staff of then-Sen. John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat.

During the campaign, Vogel sought to emphasize bipartisanship, highlighting her collegial ties with Democratic senators and her work on nonpartisan issues such as passing legislation to ban child marriage in Virginia. But Fairfax cited her support of president Donald Trump and her willingness to campaign with Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, who has made divisive issues like preservation of Confederate memorials a key part of his agenda.

In her concession speech in Richmond, Vogel said her campaign "talked about things that actually matter to Virginians and inspire Virginians." Moving forward, she said they would "not be about division" and continue to be about "solutions."

Vogel attacked Fairfax's lack of experience, and once said in a debate that Fairfax was not knowledgeable enough on the issues to talk intelligently about them. Fairfax took offense, accusing Vogel of negative campaign tactics.

As lieutenant governor, Fairfax will automatically become a contender for governor in 2021. Virginia bars governors from seeking reelection, and lieutenant governors often seek to move to the governor's mansion -- seven of the last 10 lieutenant governors in Virginia later won their party's gubernatorial nomination.

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Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this story from Richmond.

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