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Virginia GOP picks Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer, for governor

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GOP gubenatorial hopeful Glenn Youngkin speaks at a weekly breakfast for Republicans at a Golden Corral in Virginia Beach. 

Courtesy of the Virginia Mercury

He’s ultra-rich, enjoys tubing and shotguns and, until a few months ago, was virtually unknown in Virginia political circles.

Glenn Youngkin emerged as the Virginia GOP’s nominee for governor on Monday after a relatively drama-free day of vote counting that saw the 54-year-old former CEO of the Carlyle Group maintain a comfortable lead through successive rounds of vote counting in the ranked-choice contest.

“I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me,” Youngkin wrote in a tweet. “Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond.”

There were no favorites headed into the convention, which took place Saturday at 39 voting sites around the state and pitted Youngkin against a former house speaker, Kirk Cox; a controversial state senator, Amanda Chase; and an entrepreneur and party activist, Pete Snyder, among other candidates.

But voters and GOP insiders say Youngkin won over delegates with a mix of charisma on the campaign trail and millions of his own fortune, money the minority party could use as it tries to break a decade-long losing streak in statewide races.

Youngkin’s lack of political experience, and the voting record that would come along with it, emerged as an asset on the campaign trail. 

A common refrain among GOP delegates on Saturday was a desire for fresh faces and discontent with the party’s leadership, a dynamic that also benefited Snyder, who came in second place. Chatting with GOP operatives and reporters outside the counting room Monday, conservative radio host John Fredericks called Youngkin a “shiny new penny.”

Republican state Sen. Jill Vogel, the GOP’s 2017 nominee for lieutenant governor who backed Youngkin this year, said Youngkin overperformed expectations because his authenticity and intelligence clicked with a broad cross-section of voters who saw him on the trail.   

“He appealed to everybody,” she said.

His politics, however, have been difficult to pin down. He launched his campaign with a focus on election security and has refused to say whether he believes President Joe Biden won the election legitimately.

He also made frustration with the state’s economy a centerpiece of his campaign, arguing that despite consistent growth and regular rankings as a top state for business, Virginia’s economy should be growing faster and risks being outpaced by competing states.

At times Youngkin presented himself as someone who could win back voters who have left the party with commonsense, business friendly policies. And although he frequently promised to support gun rights and recounted his enjoyment of shotguns and sporting clays on the campaign trail, he was one of the only top-tier candidates who declined to go on the record about his positions with the National Rifle Association or the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the top two gun groups in the state.

In the final days of the race, Youngkin tacked to the right, campaigning with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the most outspoken enablers of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. At a campaign stop in Chesterfield, Youngkin praised Cruz “for standing up for what is right and never, ever, ever folding.”

At the event, Cruz described Youngkin as a longtime personal friend, recounting a stay at Youngkin’s house. “We have floated in the river with him, on inner tubes, maybe with a beverage or two involved,” Cruz said. (The senator went on to volunteer some private details about his bathroom habits while swimming. “We were doing an event this morning, someone called out, ‘You get out of the river to piss?’ I said, what idiot does that? I guarantee you anyone who does that is a Democrat.”)

A native of Chesterfield County, Youngkin characterized his life as a rags-to-riches story on the campaign trail, describing how his dad lost his job while he was in seventh grade, prompting a move to Virginia Beach, where he worked as a dishwasher at a diner while in high school. He attended college at Rice University in Texas on a basketball scholarship. “That was my ticket, I couldn’t have gone otherwise,” he said at a recent rally.

gop convention 2021

Volunteers count ballots cast in the state GOP’s nominating convention Monday. 

He made his fortune working at the Carlyle Group, where he earned nearly $60 million in his final three years serving as the private equity group’s co-CEO, according to annual reports.

The company has held investments in businesses that span from the defense industry to clothing brands, car rental companies and record labels, the latter of which led to a high-profile fight with Taylor Swift.

Youngkin retired in September, saying in a statement at the time that he planned to focus on “community and public service efforts.”

On the campaign trail, he’s told voters that the day before he submitted his resignation, he had already resolved to run for governor, a decision that prompted his wife, Suzanne Youngkin, to question whether he was going through a midlife crisis.

He said he views himself as the only candidate that can take on former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the presumed frontrunner in the Democratic race, which will be decided in a traditional, state-run primary next month.

“There’s something happening and I hope you can feel it because we are going to get this done,” he said.

Virginia Democrats seemed delighted by the chaos surrounding the GOP’s nominating process, many of them rooting for a Chase upset that they believe would have continued Republicans’ string of blowout losses in recent statewide elections. (Republicans last won statewide offices in 2009.)

Early polling in the contest showed Chase, who was formally censured by the state Senate for making comments supportive of participants in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, as the frontrunner.

Chase, who complained the party chose a convention process to deny her a chance at a grassroots-powered victory in a more open primary, had also threatened to run as an independent if Snyder had won, a scenario that could have splintered the party and doomed hopes of a comeback. Some Democrats privately concede that Youngkin may have been the most formidable general-election contender in the field, with Cox’s long General Assembly career and social conservatism making Cox susceptible to attacks that may not stick to an outsider with no voting record to spotlight.

Youngkin’s rapid rise seemed to correlate with Cox’s fourth-place finish, a disappointing result for the former teacher now facing the end of his political career after more than 30 years in the legislature. Cox chose not to run for re-election to his House seat, but Youngkin has floated the possibility of Cox serving in his cabinet, potentially as secretary of education.

GOP nomnation convention

Four candidates have led the GOP field in fundraising and campaign infrastructure: Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield; Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights; and businessmen Pete Snyder and Glenn Youngkin.

Tabulating the results in the gubernatorial contest took an entire day after the party opted for a hand count instead of a machine-driven process. A crew of ballot counters methodically tallied paper ballots laid out on tables in a hotel ballroom in downtown Richmond, watched by campaign observers and overseen by an expert parliamentarian the Virginia GOP brought in from Texas.

Though the parliamentarian trained the counters how to handle all the combinations of rankings and ballot choices voters could make, such as only listing a first choice or listing one candidate as their first, second and third choices, there appeared to be occasional confusion in the room. Counters were chastised on several occasions for forgetting to sign forms meant to create a paper trail showing who had counted which ballots in which rounds. Under the ranked-choice system, the lowest-performing candidate in each round was eliminated. Once voters’ first choices were eliminated, their ballots were redistributed to remaining candidates based on the ranking order they indicated.

While there didn’t appear to be any major problems with the counting, a couple of incidents underscored the heightened paranoia over security. Sunday night, a burly, bearded man claiming to be from the Republican National Committee showed up to stand guard outside the ballroom door. The man later acknowledged he was hired by the Youngkin campaign, which confirmed to The Washington Post they had hired their own security for the room because of an apparent breach the night before. Tape meant to seal off the ballroom was discovered broken on Sunday morning, but a review of security footage showed it was only a housekeeper delivering coffee.

John Findlay, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia acting as an observer for Chase, also caused a minor stir Sunday by showing up in costume as a top hat-wearing ringmaster, telling reporters he was dressed for the “circus” of a process.

Party Chairman Rich Anderson dismissed criticism from Findlay as a meaningless distraction, saying the party had gone to great lengths to ensure accuracy and transparency of the count.

“The actual clown act was him showing up at a solemn and sacred occasion counting precious ballots from voters and making a mockery of it,” Anderson said. “We decided to simply do what was done when he was executive director — the rank and file of the party essentially dismissed him.”

Anderson, who for months was called to preside over contentious meetings of the party’s central committee as it battled over the nomination process, said he’s excited to turn his attention toward the general election.

“We’ve finally reached the point where, 30 days before the Democrats have nominees, we can get on the road and carry our message to voters,” he said.

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