Chatter is growing around the possibility of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) launching a 2024 presidential bid as he seeks to bolster his national profile.
Youngkin has inserted himself into the national spotlight in recent weeks as other potential GOP contenders, including fellow Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida, journey outside of their states to test the presidential waters. Last week, Youngkin made an appearance on CNBC’s morning show “Squawk Box” and will participate in a live town hall on CNN on education, a hot-button issue for the GOP primary base. The governor also met with donors in New York last week.
The visits come as recent polling has shown good news for Youngkin on the presidential front. A Roanoke College poll released last week showed the governor with a 57 percent approval rating, while President Biden’s approval sits at 38 percent. Among Independent voters, Youngkin beats the president 54 percent to 35 percent.
And Youngkin is touting what he says is his administration’s success in the blue-leaning swing state.
“We’re driving our economic development,” Youngkin said in the CNBC interview last week. “We’re driving education to a new place and raising the ceiling and the floor. We’re making sure that law enforcement is supported, not demeaned. And we’re doing it in a successful way in a state that truly is purple.”
When asked whether he was considering a 2024 run, Youngkin told the network that he is “focused on Virginia right now.”
“I do think the reason why people are asking this question of me is because the issues that I’m dealing with in Virginia are the same issues that the nation is dealing with. And we’re winning,” the governor said.
While political observers interpret Youngkin’s media blitz as a sign he considering jumping into the 2024 arena, those close to him also emphasize that he’s stumping for Virginia’s highly contested state legislature elections this fall.
“This session just ended Feb. 22, so if you look back at last year he kind of did a similar thing where when the session is over, he’s able to go and fundraise,” said one Virginia operative close to Youngkin. “There are elections in Virginia this year that I anticipate the governor will be very active into help win the state Senate.”
But Youngkin is not publicly ruling out a bid.
“At any time he’s had the capacity to shut this down,” said veteran Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth. “And it would be more popular in Virginia if he did so.”
Only 42 percent of GOP respondents said Youngkin should seek their party’s nomination, according to the Roanoke College poll.
That same poll and other surveys also show Youngkin trailing former President Trump, as well DeSantis, who is mulling a run and bolstering his public profile as well.
Thirty-nine percent of Republican respondents in Virginia said Trump was their first choice for president, while DeSantis came in second with 28 percent. Youngkin clocked in a distant third at 6 percent.
“How he would fare in a bare-knuckled brawl that you’re going to have in which Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are in the middle of, it’s going to be tough,” Holsworth said.
There is also the question of what lane Youngkin would occupy in a primary battle.
Youngkin was able to appeal to both the GOP’s conservative base and independent voters in Virginia, leading him to victory in 2021.
“He’s kind of in what I would call the MAGA-light wing,” Holsworth said. “His positions are quite conservative. He’s very socially conservative, but at the same time he does have a business background and he does have a different style and demeanor, which is why he’s popular in Virginia. He’s not in peoples’ faces.”
That’s a direct contrast to DeSantis, who has faced questions from some critics as to whether his direct conservative brand could hurt him in a general election.
“If you take a look at the candidates across the country, often times they have the same, basic philosophical beliefs but it’s a question of style and personality,” said Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist. “I think Glenn Youngkin is a calm, rational, thoughtful conservative that many people will relate to.”
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, one of Youngkin’s top political strategist Jeff Roe said the state of the 2024 race was two-person contest between Trump and DeSantis. However, Roe said that if Youngkin were to decide to run, “he will make a lane for himself.”
In the meantime, Youngkin’s allies are working to promote his policies and initiatives, including his tax plans to double the standard deduction, slashing the corporate tax rate and lowering the top-income tax rate in Virginia.
The governor has also ramped up his anti-China rhetoric, a characteristic common to those either running for president or considering a bid. In January, he called on the General Assembly to draft legislation that would block “dangerous” foreign entities with ties to the Chinese Communist Party from purchasing farmland in Virginia.
“Even when the governor was bunkered down in Richmond during session getting bills through and things like that, folks nationally were still talking about him,” the operative close to Youngkin told The Hill.
And while Youngkin has a record of accomplishments that would be attractive to a conservative base, he has faced more hurdles legislatively than DeSantis, who has both chambers in the state legislature under his party’s control.
“[Youngkin] wants to articulate most of the same policy positions, they’re not that different,” Holsworth said.
“He can’t control the Democratic Senate, who in fact have no fear of him,” he continued. “They reject his policies at every turn on that front, so that’s kind of a challenge.”
In fact, Virginia Democrats have criticized Youngkin for upping his national presence, accusing him of being opportunistic.
“From the outset, he’s treated Virginians as though they’re just a stepping stone on his self-interested road to higher political office,” said Liam Watson, press secretary for the Virginia Democratic Party.
But this won’t necessarily matter for Republican voters who are exploring their options.
“I would bet that nine out of 10 of our candidates that are currently out there are within 95 percent the same from a policy perspective,” Anuzis said. “Really it’s going to be a function of style and winnability and ability to attract the voters that are necessary.”
“We didn’t do as well as we thought we were going to last time around, so I think winnability is going to be a big factor going forward.”