by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A specter haunts the Democratic Party — the possibility of a Glenn Youngkin victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race.
The former businessman and political neophyte is running neck and neck with Terry McAuliffe, the longtime Democratic fixture who is seeking a return to the governor’s mansion after serving one term from 2014 to 2018.
It’s a jump-ball race in what’s become a blue state, and McAuliffe, who has called in seemingly every Democrat with a national profile the past few days, might yet pull it out.
A Youngkin victory, though, would be significant. It wouldn’t just send tremors of fear through Democrats nationally, it would point to a viable path ahead for the GOP in swing areas.
To be sure, no race is completely replicable, and candidate quality matters. Youngkin is hardly a once-in-a-generation political talent, but he’s proved an adept and winsome campaigner. On the other hand, McAuliffe, ordinarily one of the most irrepressible personalities in American politics, has of late seemed exhausted, desperate, and afraid.
If Youngkin pulls it off, his sidestepping of Donald Trump will have been a huge factor. In a state like Virginia, you can’t be anti-Trump and win a GOP nomination, nor can you be too vocally pro-Trump and win a statewide election.
Youngkin walked this tightrope in large part by making mighty exertions to define himself in his own right. For the longest time, he ran only biographical ads, talking of his work in a diner as a teenager, his basketball scholarship, his business, and his four kids.
He got criticized for running an issueless campaign, but the spate of bio advertising meant his answer to the question, “Are you pro- or anti-Trump?” could be, “I’m Glenn Youngkin, nice-guy dad.”