RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Gov. Glenn Youngkin cast Virginia’s legislative elections in monumental terms when he campaigned with a Republican candidate in one of the most competitive districts days before the election.
The first-term governor, enjoying growing national recognition, told an enthusiastic crowd gathered at a historic waterfront venue that voters could help build on the “movement” he started with its own victory in 2021 by giving the party full control of the state seat and keeping “the spirit”. of Virginia” alive.
After Tuesday’s vote didn’t go as he had hoped, the rhetoric was less soaring.
“I’m here,” he said at a post-mortem press conference. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The retired sheriff Youngkin campaigned with won the Statehouse election, but Democrats held on to their majority in the Senate and flipped the House of Delegates, victories they said were driven by their promises to protect the law to abortion.
Youngkin, who is barred by the state constitution from seeking a second consecutive four-year term, will spend the final two years of his term under a still divided government. This will limit his ability to implement his agenda and force him to negotiate with the new Democratic legislative majority.
And lingering talk about the possibility of Youngkin making a last-minute entry into the 2024 presidential race should now calm down.
That was the first question Youngkin asked Wednesday during the press conference: What does this mean for a White House run?
“I’ve answered that question the same way for a long time, which is I’m focused on Virginia,” Youngkin responded. “I’ve been to Virginia. My name is not on the New Hampshire ballot. I haven’t been to Iowa or South Carolina.
Yet the quirks of Virginia law offer no clear answer about what happens next. Some have speculated that Youngkin could run for president in 2028 or perhaps for the U.S. Senate.
Billionaire Republican megadonor Thomas Peterffy had been one of the most vocal advocates of Youngkin’s 2024 White House bid and donated $3 million to the governor’s political action committee. Peterffy said in an interview before Election Day that Youngkin had given him no indication that he would enter the race.
“He won’t really say, ‘No, absolutely not.’ Leave me alone. Forget that.’ He just says, ‘I’m 100 percent focused on Virginia,’ and it’s clear to me that if he doesn’t get the Senate in Virginia, then he’s not going to run for president,” said Peterffy, who He was not made available for an interview after the election.
By running for president at the last minute, Youngkin would have faced logistical difficulties, obstacles in accessing the ballot and a Republican primary electorate that polls show largely supports former President Donald Trump. Some strategists speculated that Youngkin simply kept his name in the mix to boost fundraising.
“I think the ‘Red Vest Retreat’ was a disaster,” House Democratic leader Don Scott, who is poised to become House speaker, said of the largely campaign event. covered by Youngkin for major donors. “I think people saw that as another way for him to assert that he wasn’t with them and he was with his billionaire donors from the state of Virginia.”
Supporters of a Youngkin presidential bid viewed the wealthy former private equity executive and college basketball player as the type of Republican who could win over both loyal Trump voters and moderates. Speculation about a candidacy began as soon as Youngkin defeated former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Youngkin’s ability to connect with voters was demonstrated at rallies leading up to this year’s elections. They almost always featured a long line of supporters lingering to greet him.
Even Scott acknowledged that “voters still love Gov. Youngkin.”
“I think they still want Gov. Youngkin to succeed. But voters wanted to make sure he could control his worst impulses,” Scott said.
When Virginia lawmakers return to Richmond in January, Democrats’ slim majority means Youngkin will need bipartisan support for his legislative priorities. He might also be more inclined to use his veto, rejecting Democratic initiatives in a way that could increase his popularity with the Republican base.
Scott said Democrats would send legislation to Youngkin raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, banning so-called assault weapons, strengthening red flag laws, which aim to temporarily take guns away from people potentially violent behavior and to prevent them from harming themselves or others. and return Virginia to membership in a bipartisan data-sharing pact designed to combat voter fraud.
Democrats plan to begin work on a years-long process to advance constitutional amendments — previously blocked by the House Republican majority — that would repeal the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, remove the reinstatement of voting rights out of the hands of the governor and enshrine additional protections for the right to abortion.
The new majority will be able to fill vacancies at a powerful regulatory body and a vacancy on the Court of Appeals, which would change its ideological makeup, said Scott Surovell, candidate for party leader. majority in the Senate. He said Youngkin called him to discuss how they could work together.
“He is now going to have to treat us as an equal branch of government,” Surovell said.
Former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore, who faced divided government during part of his tenure in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said he expects Democrats to be ” implacably opposed” to Youngkin.
“He’s going to have to define every agenda and then present it directly to the people above the Democratic leadership. But he’s good at it,” Gilmore said.
After making himself the face of this year’s campaign cycle and clearly defining success as the trio winning political control of the GOP, Youngkin must now deal with the fallout.
“CLEARANCE SALE: All ‘Youngkin for President 2024’ merchandise,” tweeted Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. He criticized the governor for his willingness to campaign with Republicans who deny the legitimacy of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Others have come to Youngkin’s defense, even though Virginia Republicans are definitely in reset mode.
Devin O’Malley, a Republican communications strategist who worked on Youngkin’s campaign and was a spokesman for former Vice President Mike Pence’s recently concluded presidential campaign, said that “dancing on the grave of Glenn Youngkin is totally premature.”
O’Malley said he had not discussed Youngkin’s future political aspirations with him. But O’Malley said if Youngkin ever ascends to higher office, he will be bolstered by a good record, exceptional work ethic, strong communication skills. “Oh, and by the way, the donors really like it too.”
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.