Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is facing a critical test of his political brand in Virginia as voters head to the polls in the state Legislature elections in November.
Youngkin is set to be a major fixture on Virginia’s campaign trail this fall as Republicans look to defend their majority in the House of Delegates and potentially take control of the state Senate. The governor’s endorsed candidates successfully sailed through their primaries earlier this year, and his political action committee, the Spirit of Virginia, broke records by raising $8.5 million in the first six months of the year.
The developments come as Youngkin continues to face speculation about a potential 2024 presidential bid. And while the governor is unlikely to jump into the primary next year, the hype surrounding him demonstrates he is viewed as a future leader of the GOP, making Virginia’s off-year elections that much more important for him.
“As people look to the future of the Republican Party, you’d have a tough time creating a list that doesn’t include the optimistic approach that Gov. Youngkin is doing in Virginia, and that has been successful so far,” said Will Ritter, the CEO of Poolhouse, an agency that does media for Youngkin’s PAC.
A Republican trifecta in Virginia would be huge for Youngkin and his party four years after Democrats won a trifecta in the state. Youngkin’s election victory in 2021 went against conventional wisdom after President Biden won the state by 10 points in 2020.
“It would be a tremendous political accomplishment for him to take a state that had been trending very blue and turn it red,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst.
“[He] would be able to implement an agenda that he simply can’t implement right now because of divided government,” he continued. “He would be able to market himself with national visibility for ‘28.”
Holsworth added that a successful night for Youngkin and Republicans in 2024 could also provide Republicans with a blueprint going into 2024. Still, that was the hope after Youngkin’s election in 2021; one year later, during the midterms, Republicans underperformed in the state and across the country.
“[In] a number of these seats, Youngkin ran better in ’21 than the congressional candidates did in ’22,” Holsworth said. “That’s the reason why I think Democrats are relatively confident, but the amount of money Youngkin is raising is really transforming the fundraising battle in Virginia tremendously. For the last couple of cycles, the Democrats outraised Republicans significantly. That’s unlikely to happen this time.”
Donors inside and outside of Virginia are also expressing enthusiasm about Youngkin.
Among Youngkin’s large-dollar donors is billionaire GOP megadonor Thomas Peterffy, who gave his second million-dollar donation to Youngin’s PAC last month. The PAC has also drawn donations from wealthy donors in states like Florida, Texas and Colorado.
“He’s the candidate of the donor class,” Holsworth said.
Dave Rexrode, the chairman of Youngkin’s PAC, said donors view Youngkin’s success story in 2021 as an example for other purple-state Republicans.
“They see what he’s been able to accomplish in Virginia and is a roadmap for what other candidates in purple and blue states can do to be successful,” Rexrode said.
Virginia Democrats have used this to attack Youngkin, pointing to the 2024 speculation surrounding him.
Virginia House Minority Leader Don Scott (D) accused Youngkin of using Virginia as a “test ground” for the launch of a future presidential campaign.
“Because he is using Virginia for his personal agenda, we’ve become political fodder for him and his presidential ambitions,” Scott told The Hill.
In another interview with The Hill, Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker quipped that some of the money could be “for measuring the drapes at 1600 Pennsylvania.”
Rexrode hit back against this notion, saying the donations are going directly into Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC.
“All of the Democrats have to do is look and see that it’s going into his state PAC, it’s not going into a federal PAC,” he said.
Still, Swecker and Scott acknowledged this is an asset to Virginia Republicans.
“We are very aware that he has more money than we do, but the one thing I know we have is that the issues are on our side,” Swecker said.
However, national Democrats are gearing up to invest in the races this fall.
The DNC is investing an additional $1.2 million to support Virginia Democrats this cycle, bringing the committee’s total investment in the Virginia Democratic Party this cycle to $1.5 million.
“Time and time again, President Biden has made it abundantly clear that he is committed to not just electing Democrats at the top of the ticket, but down the entire ballot, and this investment is further proof,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement to The Hill. “We are proud to make these unprecedented investments in Virginia and across the country that will not only help Democrats win in 2023, but will build on and expand the infrastructure we need to reelect President Biden and Vice President Harris next year.”
Democrats inside and outside of Virginia have signaled they plan to make abortion a key issue to sway voters in November now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned at the federal level.
“The only thing that stopped us from having a total ban on abortion is the fact that we have a state Senate and the blue brick wall,” Swecker said.
Youngkin has expressed support for a 15-week ban on the procedure with exceptions.
Republicans and Democrats acknowledge the battle for the two chambers in Richmond will be hard-fought on both sides. Democrats currently control the state Senate with a 22-18 majority, while Republicans control the House of Delegates with a 49-46 majority. To gain control of the Senate, Republicans need to win two seats, which would lead to a 20-20 tie in the chamber that would be broken by Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears (R).
“In these districts, he is well-liked,” Rexrode said. “His job approval is in the upper 50s, they think the state is heading in the right direction, and so he is able to provide some wind at their backs as they head toward Election Day.”
Polls show Youngkin is relatively popular in Virginia. A Roanoke College poll released earlier this month showed Youngkin’s approval rating among Virginians at 51 percent. A Morning Consult survey released in July showed Youngkin with a 57 percent approval rating and 32 percent disapproval rating.
As for the 2024 speculation surrounding the governor, Youngkin and his team have repeatedly said he remains focused on Virginia’s November elections when asked whether he is considering a presidential bid. Youngkin has repeatedly been floated as a potential Republican who could take on Trump in a primary. The Washington Post reported last month that conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch has encouraged the governor to throw his hat into the ring.
Logistically, it would be difficult for the governor to jump into the crowded primary without apparatuses and infrastructure in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Filing deadlines for candidates to get on the ballot are coming up in the fall.
On Wednesday, Youngkin told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo he is not paying attention to the early filing deadlines.
“There is nothing more important than us holding our House and flipping our Senate in Virginia. That’s where my full attention is, and I am not paying attention to the filing deadlines, etc. I’m paying attention to making sure we hold our House and flip our Senate,” Youngkin said.