Democrats Worried About Youngkin

Virginia's governor has raised a ton of money.

NBC News (“Virginia Democrats raise alarms that Gov. Glenn Youngkin could be building toward a national bid“):

Virginia Democrats are worried the national party isn’t doing enough to stop Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, raising alarm bells that he could try to use wins on the state level to pull Virginia to the right and, potentially, mount a presidential bid.

Chief among their worries is this fall’s legislative elections. Every single seat in the commonwealth’s General Assembly, which is currently split between the two parties, is up for re-election in November. Republicans now hold a five-seat edge in the House of Delegates with three vacancies, while Democrats control the Senate by the same margin. Youngkin’s statewide operation is aiming at a GOP sweep, which would open the door to a conservative governing package Democrats have largely been able to stymie during his first two years in office.

“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, D-Va., said.

Democrats fear that if he’s successful this fall, Youngkin will continue to enhance his national profile, make the state even more competitive on the presidential level and perhaps even jump into the race for the White House himself in 2024. Republicans counter that Youngkin is solely focused on winning the General Assembly in November and correcting the state’s policy trajectory after years of Democratic rule.

While I think Youngkin would be a formidable candidate against President Biden were he the Republican nominee, I continue to believe there’s next to zero chance someone other than Donald Trump gets the nod. Living in Northern Virginia, which is its own animal, I have very little sense of the pulse of the rest of the state vis-a-vis the legislative elections in November. Indeed, I’m only vaguely aware there’s an election as I’ve seen essentially no signs of a campaign.

“I don’t think he ever stopped running for higher office,” said Democratic state Sen. Mamie Locke, who is running for re-election in her Hampton-based district. “He certainly does not have Virginia as his priority. He has a spotlight on something much higher.”

Virginia is one of the only states remaining that prohibits its governor from running for consecutive terms. An eye to future office is baked into the cake. Both of our current Senators are former governors.

Youngkin and his team have strategically avoided the topic of his political future without ruling out the possibility that he could jump into the race for president at a late stage.

“His sole focus and sole priority is on these state House and state Senate races,” said David Rexrode, the executive director of Youngkin’s state PAC, Spirit of Virginia. “He’s doing town halls in Fredericksburg and Prince William, Loudoun and Roanoke, not in Des Moines, Manchester and Charleston.”

This is objectively true. Indeed, he told the NYT when asked about a potential Presidential run in April, “Listen, I didn’t write a book, and I’m not in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina.” I’m sure he’d seize an opportunity to enter the race just before Iowa if it presented itself. My guess, though, is that he’ll wait until 2028, when there’s not an incumbent President and a former incumbent President in the way. He’s only 56, so he has time.

This, though, is interesting:

Spirit of Virginia has become a financial engine the likes of which Republicans have not seen since 2011, when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, then seen as a rising GOP star, became chair of the Republican Governors Association. Youngkin has raised $9.5 million since the beginning of the year from donors across the U.S., including recent fundraisers on Nantucket in Massachusetts and in the Hamptons in New York, a source familiar with the PAC’s finances confirmed. That money is now aimed at arming Virginia’s GOP candidates with the resources they need to win in November. And Youngkin is building ties with prominent and connected leaders across the country along the way.

It is an out-of-state money and political machine that Virginia Democrats say they haven’t matched. The commonwealth’s two Democratic senators are now getting involved, with a specific focus on pushing the national party to pay attention to what is at stake this fall.

“I don’t think there’s the same national donor focus on Virginia as Gov. Youngkin is pushing on the Republican side,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a former governor himself. 

Kaine argues that if Youngkin’s political machine is successful this fall, it puts Virginia in play on many levels in 2024.

“We may be battleground leaning blue, but we’re not a blue state,” Kaine said. “And that means electoral votes have to be fought for every year.”

Kaine will be on the ballot in 2024 after announcing his intention to seek re-election.

Virginia was a decidedly battleground state when I moved here in 2002. While it had pretty consistently voted Republican for President, it has been mostly electing Democrats to the state house and US Senate. But it’s now gone Democratic at the Presidential level four straight times. I think it’s safe to call it a blue state at this point.

Still, that Younkin has built such a huge war chest is a sign of his appeal and skills as a politician. That’s pretty impressive for a finance guy whose first political campaign was the one for his current office two years ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    The Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, always taking place a year after the presidential election, have a long history of voting against whichever party is in the White House. In the past, this pattern was so taken for granted that it wasn’t seen as necessarily a sign of either states’ overall partisan trend. For example, in late 2001 at the height of Bush’s post-9/11 boom in popularity, Dems flipped the governorship in both states. And that was when VA was still considered reliably Republican in presidential elections. Even after Obama carried the state in 2008 in what turned out to be the beginning of its blue shift, the Republicans still won the governor’s race by a 17-point margin a year later, in what was probably more a sign of the Dems’ trouble nationally at the time than it was about their future in Virginia.

    That’s why the 2021 results wouldn’t have been viewed as that significant if they’d been judged the traditional way. Youngkin’s win was historically narrow, and in NJ, Phil Murphy became the first candidate from the president’s party to win that race in 35 years. But there’s been such a nationalization in modern politics that a lot of people thought the old patterns in these two states were breaking down–which, to some extent, they were. After all, back in 2013 Dems already defied the historical pattern by winning the VA governor’s race. And everything else in the state seemed to be trending in the Dems’ direction, with Northam’s 2017 win, their takeover of the legislature in 2019, and Biden’s double-digit victory a year later.

    Youngkin’s win was an upset; the polls right before the election saw it coming, but during most of the cycle they’d showed T-Mac with the advantage. And Phil Murphy’s reelection in NJ was a lot narrower than expected. Its defiance of the historical pattern wasn’t seen as a triumph on the Dems’ part, because, just like in VA, those patterns aren’t taken as seriously as they once were.

    I think these results did more to establish the “red wave” narrative the following year than a lot of people remember. We Dems had been riding high since the failed California recall earlier that year. The VA results were the first really bad electoral drubbing we’d taken anywhere in a while. And who knows, maybe they were a bellwether of bad things to come, and it was only the black swan of Dobbs that stopped it in its tracks.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Virginia’s governor has raised a ton of money.

    So did Florida’s. How did that work out?

    trump too for that matter, but I don’t think he counts as it’s all going to lawyers.

  3. Daryl says:

    People were fooled by Youngkin’s regular guy in a fleece vest schtick the first time around.
    Then he went full-on MAGA once in office; CRT, white-washing education, and flirting with abortion bans…even while a Democratic Legislature won’t give him a bill to sign.
    I don’t think so many people are going to be fooled now that he has a record he has to run on.

  4. A scenario in which the GOP is in such disarray that there is a real chance that a new candidate could enter a crowded field with a clear frontrunner and upset the applecart is one that the Democrats should relish, not worry about.

  5. Kylopod says:

    @Daryl: He’s got a pretty high approval rating right now. It doesn’t seem the voters of Virginia have wizened up.

    I’m not trying to be a doomsayer. He can’t run for reelection, and he isn’t going to win the presidential primary. I also don’t think his personal popularity will be enough to enable Republicans to take over the state government this fall. (I think there’s at least as much chance that Dems will win back the House.) But it doesn’t hurt that some Dems are sounding the alarm.

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Slow news day so roll out the evergreen headline Dems are worried about _____ entering the prez race.

    Move along, nothing to see here until trump withdraws.

  7. Jen says:

    I’ll simply note that it would be extraordinarily optimistic for a candidate to think that he can enter the race late and have enough of an organization built up to support a national candidacy. Money can buy a lot of things, but setting up a national effort takes time. Unless he’s doing a tremendous amount of secret organizing, a 2024 run will get further out of reach with each week that passes by, particularly after Labor Day.

  8. Scott says:

    Some MAGA candidate is going to hang Youngkin’s business background around his neck. He was CEO of The Carlyle Group. Everything MAGA hates. Youngkin will have to disguise it with culture wars so he won’t be portrayed as a Davos globalist.

  9. charontwo says:


    People were fooled by Youngkin’s regular guy in a fleece vest schtick the first time around.
    Then he went full-on MAGA once in office; CRT, white-washing education, and flirting with abortion bans…even while a Democratic Legislature won’t give him a bill to sign.
    I don’t think so many people are going to be fooled now that he has a record he has to run on.


    He’s got a pretty high approval rating right now. It doesn’t seem the voters of Virginia have wizened up.

    This is the sort of thing that really bothers me. Like, WTF.

  10. Kathy says:

    My guess, though, is that he’ll wait until 2028, when there’s not an incumbent President and a former incumbent President in the way.

    He can wait til then. But odds are Benito will run in 2028 if he’s still alive.

  11. gVOR10 says:

    Heard somebody say something really depressing yesterday.

    It’s five months until the Iowa caucuses.

    Five more months of this constant wall to wall coverage of Trump and the dozen or twenty dwarfs clown act before anything actually happens.

  12. stevecanyon says:

    I am not sure I would consider him a formidable candidate at this point. His entire history in political campaigns is winning one race against a weak candidate – Terry McAuliffe. If he won the nomination, he would be going against Biden, who has repeatedly shown himself to be a canny and capable politician. Youngkin might be an match for Biden but I wouldn’t take that as a given.

  13. Beth says:

    As it’s been pointed out, Youngkin squeaked through because McAuliffe was a loser that Dems weren’t interested in. He also went out of his way to hide how much of a MAGA chud he is. Then, the coup de gras, Dem Legislature won’t let him go full Sanders. Give him Republican control of Virgina and that whole Schtick will die. He’ll be just as looney and malignant as DeSantis or Sanders and will nuke his chances of anything other than being voted nicest vest at the klan rally.


    Pretty sure that’s because the upper middle class Dems in that area don’t mind a lil’ racism and homo/transphobia, so long as the packaging is neat. His whole approval is based on this sort of milquetoast blandness and as soon as he gets real power that’s going to get shredded fast.

  14. wr says:

    @Daryl: “I don’t think so many people are going to be fooled now that he has a record he has to run on.”

    Except for the always-savvy political press, constantly on the lookout for a new “reasonable” Republican daddy on whom they can lavish tons of attention while scrupulously ignoring his actual record.

  15. al Ameda says:

    Democrats should be worried about him.
    He chacks important boxes:

    [check] Not a career politician
    [check] Culture warrior
    [check] Harvard Business School conservative
    [check] Self made half-a-billionaire
    [check] Off radar while others are showing themselves to be pathetic opposition to Trump

    if Trump somehow gets thrown off the bus or self immolates, Youngkin would be a better alternative candidate than ANY of the others inthe field, and it’s not close.

  16. Jen says:

    @Beth: I’ll admit I was very confused at reading this before my brain made the “oh, Sarah Huckabee, not Bernie” Sanders connection.

  17. DK says:

    Ah, having run out of ink on Trump and on predicting economic doom and gloom for Biden (oopsy daisy) parts of the media are back to their favorite pastime: getting quotes from four or five Democrats to make blanket declarations about all of America’s millions of Democrats being “worried” or in “disarray” or something.

    Still, that Younkin has built such a huge war chest is a sign of his appeal and skills as a politician.

    Hehehe. Are we talking about the oh so skillful and appealing Ron DeSantis?

    Or about some other Great White Hope who has to run on the Republican Party’s unpopular agenda of forced birth, gay bashing, and book banning — since the popular-in-Florida DeSantis crumbled in the national spotlight?

    Fred Thompson? Tim Pawlenty? Scott Walker? Pfft lol

    The Republican Party, if it’s going to be saved, needs to read the room and do something different in policy and politician. Generic grey-haired man won’t cut it in 2024 and beyond, no offense to any hot silver daddies so situated.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Aside from the off-off-year thing that we talked about a lot at the time, McAulife’s gaffe regarding parents controlling their kids’ education was a gift that Youngkin exploited to victory.

    stevecanyon: The incumbent President is almost always the odds-on favorite; it takes a disaster to make that not the case. I just think Youngkin would appeal to far more voters than DeSantis, let alone Trump. Still, Biden has not exactly been a stellar politician on the national stage. He imploded every previous time he tried to run for President.

    @al Ameda: Yup. I didn’t vote for him, even though I very much dislike McAulife, because he leaned too far into the Trumpist direction during the campaign. Still, he’s able to come across as a normal human being in a way too many in the field right now can’t.

  19. DK says:

    @Kylopod: The tendency is to treat Dobbs and Trump etc. as black swan one-offs, but are they really? Antiabortion extremism, conspiracy nuttiness, and bigoted Trumpian authoritarianism are the inevitable results of where Nixon, Reagan, and Bush took the party.

    You lay down with Harlan Crow, excommunicated segregationists, Jerry Falwell, Lee Atwater, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, and Rupert Murdoch, and, well, here we are. The right has been headed to same dark place since Eisenhower died.

    That’s why it’s starting not to matter which face they slap on the side of the Titanic. Can Youngkin patch the hole? Doubtful.

  20. Kylopod says:

    @DK: What made Dobbs a black swan was that it happened at all. I’m not saying nobody saw the decision itself coming (pretty much anyone who was paying any attention did), but that its electoral impact was like a nuke that totally upended the normal processes that affect midterm elections. It was also a reversal of how abortion politics used to play out. In the past, although polls generally found majorities supporting Roe, anti-abortion voters were more motivated, and therefore the issue tended to work to their advantage. It’s the curse of taking something for granted, and not appreciating it until it’s gone (a continual problem Dems face when it comes to a number of issues).

    I think, also, that it was a reflection of the gradual, decades-long partisan sorting on this issue. As late as 2010 there were still a lot of anti-choice politicians within the party (remember Bart Stupak and the stink he made over the ACA being used to fund abortions?). The Dems for a long time felt they still had to compete for socially conservative voters, and that led them toward some level of caution on the issue, including going along with late-term-abortion fear-mongering.

    (In my view, one of Hillary’s greatest and most underappreciated moments during the 2016 campaign was when she refused to take the bait on this question during one of the debates, and made one of the strongest, most impassioned–and, frankly, woman-centered–arguments for abortion rights I’ve ever seen from a presidential nominee.)

    I consider it significant that last year Bob Casey Jr. said he’d support a federal abortion rights bill. Whether that was due to a genuine evolution in his views or simply opportunism is a question that doesn’t concern me a whole lot. It’s just a sign of how the party has shifted, especially given his father’s role in the biggest judicial challenge to Roe before Dobbs.

    For a long time there was an unfortunate level of complacency among many Dems about the prospect of Roe one day being overturned. There were plenty of Dems who warned about it–just about every Democratic candidate in the modern era would mention it at some point on the campaign trail–but too many didn’t take the possibility very seriously, and I don’t think there was enough of an organized effort within the party to highlight the entire issue of judicial appointments during presidential elections. It was something that Republicans generally paid more attention to (it was a big factor in getting Republicans who were uncertain about Trump on board in 2016). I think one of the side effects of Dobbs has been to increase many Dems’ awareness of the importance of judicial appointments, and to make it a central focus. It’s just sad because the damage is done.

  21. Barry says:

    @Kathy: “He can wait til then. But odds are Benito will run in 2028 if he’s still alive.”

    At that point he’d just be a guy was was famous a long time ago.

  22. Kathy says:


    Assuming he loses the election (gods willing) and is not incarcerated (gods forbid), I can’t see him not running. He’ll want to pardon himself, and more important to be in a position to punish his enemies.

    Other than death, the only other things what would stop him are 1) dementia so bad he can’t make sense even to himself, 2) a prolonged stay in prison, or real house arrest with real limitations in communications and no travel allowed at all.

    Would his abse hold? Possible, but not necessary. He’ll run regardless, unless the above exceptions.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Barry: I dunno. Evangelicals hung on with “Abortion is Murder!” for 50 years. Eight or ten years for “God’s Cyrus” is a cakewalk.

  24. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Still, he’s able to come across as a normal human being in a way too many in the field right now can’t.

    Translation: Youngkin is a much higher-functioning sociopath than Trump, and smoother to boot. He seems appealing to anyone not really paying attention, which is most people.

    Youngkin worries me much more than any other R candidate, including Trump.