He’s not on the ballot, but Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia could end up being the biggest winner in Tuesday’s off-year elections.
Youngkin aims to hold the GOP’s narrow majority in the state House and recapture control of the state Senate, where Democrats currently hold a fragile majority. And while he’s not up for re-election, the governor has become the face of the Virginia showdowns, which are seen as a crucial bellwether ahead of the 2024 elections.
“We’ve got work to do. And the work to do right now is to hold the House and flip the Senate. Hold the House and flip the Senate,” Youngkin has emphasized as he’s crisscrossed the Commonwealth this autumn, headlining rallies in support of Republican legislative candidates.
As a first-time candidate who hailed from the party’s business wing, Youngkin edged out former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021 to become the first GOP candidate in a dozen years to win a gubernatorial election in the one-time swing state that had trended towards the Democrats the previous decade.
His victory energized Republicans and instantly made Youngkin a rising star in the GOP.
Now, his goal is total Republican control of the state government in Richmond, which would allow Youngkin to push through a conservative agenda.
Youngkin, mostly through his Spirit of Virginia PAC, has hauled in a record $22.5 million, with much of the funds paying for mailers, digital spots, and TV ads to encourage Republicans to head to the polls.
“I’m asking for your vote. Elect a Republican team to back me up and I promise, we’ll deliver,” Youngkin pledges in his closing TV commercial ahead of Election Day.
And the governor embraces the national attention on his state’s legislative showdowns.
“I believe it should be a bellwether because Virginia leads,” he told Fox News. “I think we can lead and demonstrate that in a state that was lost, a state that was totally controlled by Democrats, we can in 24 short months come together, Republicans, independents, and yes, some Democrats and choose common sense conservative leadership and policies that work…I think other states should take notice.”
After Youngkin’s victory two years ago, some pundits quickly viewed him as a possible 2024 White House contender.
A number of top conservative donors who don’t support former President Donald Trump — the current commanding front-runner in the GOP nomination race — this autumn have quietly increased their efforts to persuade Youngkin to run for the White House.
That pressure will vastly increase if the GOP takes total control of Virginia’s government in next week’s elections.
Youngkin has demurred on any 2024 talk.
“I’m humbled by the fact that people are paying attention to what we’re doing in Virginia and supportive of what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m glad the nation is watching, but we’ve got work to do here.”
It’s getting late in the game for a White House hopeful to jump into the 2024 race.
But former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who spoke with Fox News as he joined the governor on the campaign trail in Norfolk, Virginia last week, said “there’s a window, a very short, slim, window. But if there’s somebody who can do it, it’s Glenn Youngkin.”
Veteran Virginia-based political scientist David Richards said he’s “beginning to wonder if he’s waited too long.”
“At this point, is it getting too late?” asked the political science chair at the University of Lynchburg.
Looking to the next cycle, Richards added he thinks Youngkin is “setting himself up for 2028.”