Bolling: Thoughts on the Glenn Youngkin Campaign

By Bill Bolling

Republican primary voters (I know it was actually an “unassembled convention”) showed a lot of wisdom in choosing Glenn Youngkin as their standard bearer in the fall gubernatorial campaign.

Youngkin proved himself to be a hard working candidate, and he has the added benefit of being a successful businessman and a political outsider, all of which should be well received by Virginia voters. As a political outsider, he also does not have the political baggage that other candidates possessed. And it helps that he can self fund a large part of his campaign.

However, make no mistake, the fall campaign will still be challenging for Republicans. Democrats have won the last 13 statewide political campaigns in Virginia (President, U.S. Senate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General) by an average of 7%. Virginia is a much bluer state than it has been in many years.

Understanding why Republicans lost these campaigns could be instructive. These losses were in large part driven by three factors:

1. Changing demographics and residential mobility patterns, i.e., Republicans have failed to connect with suburban voters, especially suburban woman, young people, the college educated, and growing numbers of Hispanic and Asian voters.

2. The unpopularity of President Trump, which greatly impacted elections in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 in Virginia, and,

3. The fact that the Republican Party has been seen as being too extreme, too ideologically rigid, and too mean spirited. In other words, the Republican brand has been badly damaged in Virginia.

Glenn Youngkin has an opportunity to change that. If he takes the next 30-60 days to carefully present himself to the people of Virginia he can begin to change the anti-Republican narrative. To do so he needs to tell his personal story of being a political outsider and a successful business leader who wants to restore balance in state government and get Virginia back on the right track.

In addition, President Trump is no longer an issue, or should not be. That may well drive down Democratic voter enthusiasm in November. In 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, Democrats came to the polls in record numbers to vote against Trump and Republicans. That may not be the case this year.

Finally, we will need to see how the national political mood plays out between now and November. Right now, President Biden’s approval ratings are in the mid 50s, which is good for Democrats, but they may not stay that way. If Biden’s approval rating drops below 50%. that could also be good news for Republicans.

I’ve always said that for Republicans to win again in Virginia four things had to happen: 1) Republicans had to nominate the right kind of candidate, and they did; 2) these candidates had to run the right kind of campaigns, and I think Glenn Youngkin understands that; 3) Democrats had to make some mistakes, and they may have by overplaying their hand in Richmond and making Virginia the most liberal state in the South; and,  4) the national political mood had to be favorable, which remains to be seen.

But the bottom line is that 2021 could give Republicans a chance to get back in the game and restore some much needed balance to Virginia’s state government. Here’s hoping they can pull it off, because balance is sorely missing right now.

Bill Bolling served as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 2006-2014. He now teaches government and politics at George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Richmond.

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