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Virginia Dashes Youngkin’s Hopes of a Republican Takeover

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Virginia Dashes Youngkin’s Hopes of a Republican Takeover

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For months, some of the Republican Party’s top donors have dreamed of a dramatic late entrance into the presidential race by Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, envisioning an improbable scenario in which the fleece-vested former financier rips control of the party away from Donald J. Trump.

On Tuesday night, those fantasies were dealt a dose of reality as Mr. Youngkin came up short in his attempt to complete a Republican takeover in Virginia’s capital, with Democrats not only maintaining control of the State Senate but also regaining the majority in the House.

Mr. Youngkin had been viewed by some Republicans as the key to unlocking their political problems in the suburbs. In 2021, he won over moderate voters turned off by the Trump era while avoiding significant blowback from the party’s conservative base for keeping his party’s controversial standard-bearer at arm’s length.

Mr. Youngkin’s blueprint, the thinking went, could help the Republican Party halt a series of stinging defeats since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Mr. Youngkin encouraged his party to lean into the fight, spending heavily on a television ad that explained the Republican plan to ban abortion in Virginia after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the woman.

Voters in key races rejected that Republican position, upending the idea that Mr. Youngkin and similarly minded candidates had solved the party’s single greatest electoral challenge.

For now, Mr. Youngkin’s national ambitions — always more likely to crystallize in the 2028 presidential cycle than in this one — appear to be on hold. A more immediate concern for the term-limited Mr. Youngkin will be in Richmond, where his final two years in office will be spent battling Democratic majorities in the legislature that are unlikely to move forward on the Republican governor’s agenda.

“The only justification for running next year would be if Republicans took over both houses,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Without that, he’s got a problem of having been elected to one public office and only being halfway through that single term.”

Dave Rexrode, a key adviser to Mr. Youngkin, acknowledged that it had been a tough night for Republicans. “We had hoped for a stronger outcome,” he said in a social media post, adding that the governor’s team would “fully assess where things stand in the morning.”

Mr. Youngkin’s political strength has stemmed from what had been his unique success story in Virginia, which has voted for Democrats in the last four presidential elections but seemed to have warmed to Republicans since his ascent two years ago.

That has fed anticipation in some corners of the Republican Party about whether and when Mr. Youngkin, 56, might run for president. Donors in particular have hoped that the governor might decide on a bid sooner than later, with Mr. Trump’s Republican presidential rivals seemingly unable to close in on his commanding lead in the polls.

Mr. Youngkin raised more than $18 million this year for his political committee, Spirit of Virginia, a staggering sum anchored by six- and seven-figure contributions from a few Republican billionaires, including Kenneth G. Langone, Ronald S. Lauder, Bernie Marcus, Thomas Peterffy, Stephen Ross, Stephen Wynn and Jeff Yass.

Mr. Youngkin, a former chief executive of the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based private equity firm, also donated $500,000 of his own money last month.

“There’s no question he wants to run for president,” said one donor, who added that Mr. Youngkin had made that clear in private conversations and who insisted on anonymity to describe them.

Mr. Youngkin stoked chatter about his future in the spring when he released a presidential-style campaign video of highlights from a lofty speech he had delivered at Ronald Reagan’s presidential library. He has declined to discuss speculation, however, saying only that he remains focused on Virginia.

Part of Mr. Youngkin’s appeal has been his ability to campaign as a Trump Republican, but on his terms.

He has campaigned with Kari Lake, the Arizona Republican who is one of the nation’s leading election deniers, and he set up a tip line for parents to report complaints against teachers, although it was quietly shut down. Mr. Youngkin’s policy proposals — including the 15-week abortion ban and prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in public schools — have also animated Trump loyalists in the party.

Democrats pointed to those policies as one of the reasons Mr. Youngkin and his party fell short on Tuesday.

“Virginians understood the extremism of Youngkin’s abortion ban and the threats to democracy posed by MAGA Republicans,” said Dan Helmer, a Democratic House delegate in Virginia and the chairman for his party’s House campaigns. “That’s why they turned out to vote.”

Mr. Youngkin was a central figure in the Virginia races, holding more than 100 campaign events for his party and making repeated cameos in television ads with Republican candidates.

The governor moved large sums of money to the state Republican Party to underwrite a turnout operation that focused heavily on early voting, a program he promoted despite Mr. Trump’s repeated warnings to Republicans that mail voting could not be trusted.

“We launched early voting because I was tired of seeing Virginians come to the polls on the last day and see Republicans behind by tens of thousands of votes,” Mr. Youngkin said outside a polling place in Bristow, Va. “We’ve seen a major difference.”

At the polling place, Migara De Silva, a retiree and a Republican voter, eagerly rushed up to Mr. Youngkin to thank him for his economic policies and urge him to “change the state, and then change the country.”

In a brief interview after their exchange, Mr. De Silva said he would like to see Mr. Youngkin run for president — but not until 2028.

“After Trump,” he quickly clarified. “It will only create a lot of bad blood if he jumps in now.”

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