Virginia Republican operatives believe that Gov. Glenn Youngkin could make a late entrance into the 2024 GOP primary field after this November’s legislative elections, they told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Despite Youngkin previously ruling out a bid “this year,” and maintaining he’s solely focused on Virginia, Republican megadonors have reignited rumors that the governor might still challenge former President Donald Trump for the nomination. The GOP state operatives argue that if Youngkin and the Republicans are able to hold the House of Delegates and flip the Senate red on Nov. 7, the governor might jump in.
“I think it’s a real possibility,” Chris Saxman, executive director of Virginia FREE and former Virginia state delegate, told the DCNF. “Glenn Youngkin comes with coattails for Republicans. If he can demonstrate that, that’s a powerful narrative to people out there who really pay attention to these things — Iowa voters, New Hampshire voters, South Carolina voters — who want to move away from the Biden administration, and it would be a generational shift.”
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All of Virginia’s state legislative seats are up for reelection this year, with Republicans currently having a slim majority in the House and Democrats holding a narrow majority in the Senate. Youngkin has insisted he’s focused on November’s legislative elections when questioned about 2024, and has made a number of endorsements while aggressively fundraising via his super PAC Spirit of Virginia.
Jeff Frederick, former chairman of the Virginia GOP and former Virginia state delegate, doesn’t think it’s “wishful thinking” that Youngkin runs for president, but argued Republicans must make gains in the state legislature for the governor to weigh a bid, he told the DCNF.
“If he has presidential aspirations, that’s a massive feather in his cap and it’s going to reinforce every positive thing that anyone has to say about Glenn Youngkin,” said Frederick. “If we take over the Senate, keep the House, I don’t think it’s 100% that he’s going to run, but I think it’s 100% that him and his team are going to, for the first time, are really going to seriously consider jumping in.”
Some GOP donors who aren’t confident in the current Republican primary field’s ability to defeat the former president are hoping Youngkin jumps in.
Republican billionaire Ronald Lauder reportedly would back Youngkin for president if he runs, and billionaire Thomas Peterffy, a former supporter of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has dropped $2 million into the governor’s PAC. Fox News executive Rupert Murdoch is also hoping Youngkin challenges Trump in 2024.
The RealClearPolitics (RCP) average for a 2024 national Republican primary, based on polls conducted between Aug. 10 and Aug. 21, indicates Trump is leading the crowded field by over 40 points, followed by DeSantis at 14.3%, conservative businessman Vivek Ramaswamy at 7.2% and former Vice President Mike Pence at 4%. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received 3.2%, 3.1% and 3% support, respectively, and all other GOP hopefuls garnered less than 1%.
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Saxman doesn’t believe any of the current GOP hopefuls have the bandwidth to beat Trump, while also uniting the party. Republican voters might be weary of Trump’s growing legal woes by the time Youngkin decides to jump in, which could provide an opening for him in the primary, said Saxman.
“Youngkin was able to thread the MAGA, America first Republicans who were brought into the party by Donald Trump, he kept them as part of the coalition, expanded it throughout suburban Virginia,” said Saxman.
“Virginia’s getting attention because Governor Youngkin’s common-sense conservative leadership is working. There’s more to do, so the governor’s not taking his eye off Virginia; these (legislative) races are too important,” Spirit of Virginia PAC Chairman Dave Rexrode previously told the DCNF in a statement regarding a potential presidential run.
Youngkin had no prior political experience before his gubernatorial run in Virginia, and spent his life working in the private sector. The governor gained national attention in 2021 when he narrowly beat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe by 2 points, succeeding Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, according to Ballotpedia.
Youngkin’s message of parental empowerment proved persuasive to a Virginia electorate that has trended Democratic in recent years, and his electoral success in a battleground state gained him national attention as a rising Republican star.
Virginia’s Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears also addressed the potential for Youngkin to make a late entrance, and toldFox News Wednesday “it wouldn’t surprise me” if he did.
“I don’t know that it would surprise me,” Sears said. “I know that he is a humble man and, by the way that’s the other thing we are looking for in the character of the leader. We want somebody who is humble, and by the way humble doesn’t mean weak, it means being meek, strength, of course, but it’s character. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me, and it would be a wonderful thing, I think. But we are focused on 2023.”
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Several prominent Virginia Democrats have recently expressed concern over Youngkin’s political operation in the state ahead of the November elections, as well as potential implications for 2024. State Sen. Mamie Locke, who is up for reelection this year, believes Youngkin has his sights set on “higher office,” she told NBC News Monday.
“I don’t think there’s the same national donor focus on Virginia as Gov. Youngkin is pushing on the Republican side,” Sen. Tim Kaine, former governor of Virginia, told NBC News.
“So much is at stake in terms of controlling the legislature and I just don’t see that same national energy, candidly, from the White House, on how important Virginia could be not just this year, but next as well,” Sen. Mark Warner told NBC News.
The Republican operatives argued that these remarks from high-profile Democrats are notable, indicating the strength of Youngkin’s operation in Virginia. Saxman argued that the Democrats are worried Youngkin will run for president because they know he’d be able to beat President Joe Biden, win Virginia and potentially have Republican coattails.
“I’d say Youngkin must be doing a pretty good job right now, because the Democrats are legitimately freaking out right now,” said Frederick.
A Virginia Commonwealth University survey released on Aug. 3 suggests Youngkin would beat Biden in a general election for the state 44% to 37%, while Trump would lose by 3 points and DeSantis would tie with the president at 41%. Youngkin has a 49% approval rating compared to Biden’s 39% in Virginia, according to the poll.
Since Virginia Democrats did well electorally when Trump was at the top of the ticket, Saxman argued that they don’t want to “give up the gains that they had” if Youngkin were to run and win the GOP nomination in 2024. Along with Virginia, Saxman believes Youngkin would be able to win battleground states in a general election, like Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“Glenn Youngkin really is an electoral math problem for Democrats,” said Saxman. “I think that’s why Virginia Democrats are raising the concerns because they see the bad poll numbers, and that can be a launchpad for Glenn Youngkin in November.”
If Youngkin runs after the legislative elections, he will have missed the filing deadlines for the Nevada caucus on Feb. 8 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24. Saxman argued Youngkin doesn’t need to participate in those two states, and believes his team would “do whatever math necessary” for him to secure enough delegates to win.
“This isn’t something that is just, ‘let’s tap Glenn Youngkin to run.’ It’s more about, ‘hey, we have a really shitty hand that we’re holding. Let’s try to draw some new cards,’” Frederick said, noting that the governor would have to organize a campaign quickly.
Youngkin did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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