With less than a week to go before Virginia Republicans hold their "virtual convention" and select a nominee for governor, signs are strong that the momentum in the seven-candidate race is with businessman Glenn Youngkin.
Among the leading contenders are former state House Speaker Kirk Cox, angel investor Pete Snyder, former U.S. Department of Defense official Sergio de La Pena, State Sen. Amanda Chase (sometimes dubbed "Trump in Heels" for her outspoken persona), and Youngkin.
In large part, GOP activists agree — Youngkin’s activity in raising money for lower-office candidates has put him in a strong position for the virtual selection of the nominee on May 8.
One of two gubernatorial elections this year (the other is New Jersey’s), the Virginia contest has long been dubbed the "bell-weather election" for the odd-numbered years.
In the last two races, Republicans nominated then-State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2013 and former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie in 2017. Both lost — Cuccinelli by a tight 2.5% of the vote and Gillespie by a much larger 9%.
But despite the increasingly Democrat trend of the Old Dominion State, the unpopular tenure of termed-out Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam has fueled hopes the GOP can retake Richmond after eight years.
Thus, Virginia is now "front and center" for pollsters and Republican Party leaders nationwide.
In March, Youngkin and wife Suzanne established the Virginia Wins PAC and, in their words, have "contributed more than $400,000 to support Republican candidates and restore and renew conservative leadership in the Commonwealth [over the years]."
"What we have seen over the years is a flood of money coming from outside of the Commonwealth from people like [left-wing billionaire] George Soros, trying to and successfully electing liberal candidates to extremely important positions," Youngkin told Newsmax. "So we want to actually stand up and support conservative candidates so that we can have a voice in these important [races]."
Youngkin explained that the new PAC has "a 7-figure commitment to this. We support great conservative candidates in seats like school boards, supervisory boards, and sheriff’s races. We will be supporting [candidates for the State House of] Delegates and eventually state Senate races and congressional races."
In an interview with Newsmax, Youngkin recalled how "as a Christian and a conservative, I stepped back this last summer and saw what was happening to my home state of Virginia."
The candidate was, in his words, "overwhelmed with sadness, and I thought that the Republican Party had unfortunately found every way to lose for the last four years."
He and his wife Suzanne, he said, "prayed over it and then committed ourselves to get into the arena. We want to run a different kind of campaign so that a Republican will win in November."
As to what he means by "a different kind of campaign," Youngkin explained "I start with the fact that I am not a politician. I think that all Virginians are ready for a different kind of leader. They are tired of career politicians who have been trying to win these offices and losing or people who have been in these offices forever who haven’t delivered for Virginians."
The businessman-candidate’s campaign is based on what he calls "kitchen-table issues to get the job machine going again."
Virginia’s economy, he said, "has trailed [that of] our peer states — Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland — substantially for eight years, yet our cost of living keeps going up."
Youngkin also noted that "people are worried about their schools, and I hear it repeatedly from Virginians because our schools are closed. We have fought time and time again to get our schools open, and Gov. Northam has sat on the sidelines doing nothing when study after study shows that our schools have to be open now."
Along similar lines, he underscored his belief that school choice and charter schools are critical to improving the Virginia public school system.
"Law and order" is also an important part of the Youngkin agenda.
"As we have watched our law-enforcement heroes be defunded and demoralized, which leads to [police] understaffing all over Virginia," he said, "[and] crime is rising as a result."
Straight and honest voting is another issue from which Youngkin doesn’t run.
"In the world of election integrity, this is not a Republican issue — it’s a democracy issue," he said, "Let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton said it was an issue in 2016, and almost 50% of Democrats agreed with her then."
Youngkin also said he has heard many of his fellow Virginians express concerns over what they feel is the encroachment of Big Tech on their constitutional rights.
To counter this, he said, "we need to stand up for our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Big Tech is trying to limit what we can say and what we can read. That is wrong, and I will stand up for our Constitution."
Youngkin has also garnered significant support among younger voters and minorities. He recently won the College Republican of Liberty University Straw Poll with 47.4%, with Amanda Chase at 25.19% and Pete Snyder at 11.85%.
He also emphasized that his belief that "the Virginia Republican Party has not done a great job of reaching out, listening, and engaging with [minorities]. We started coalitions the minute I started campaigning."
As to what he brings to the proverbial table for minorities, Youngkin replied "it’s the values that we share, but we also want to give them a voice. It has been a consistent and natural step in our efforts to reach Virginians to let them know that the Republican Party is a home and that their values are shared."
No Virginia Republicans are making solid bets on a nominee come May 8. But at this point, it is safe to say Glenn Youngkin looks very strong in the finish.
Michael Cozzi is a Ph.d candidate at Catholic University in Washington DC.
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