Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued a third round of endorsements May 18 in Virginia legislative races, backing 19 more Republican candidates, including six who are in contested primaries.
Among those who received the governor’s nod were Emily Brewer and Tara Durant, both members of the House of Delegates facing spirited challenges for the GOP nomination in state Senate races. Youngkin is also backing Senate candidate Bill Woolf and House of Delegates candidates John Stirrup, Lee Peters and Buddy Fowler, an incumbent, over other GOP opponents, according to details provided to The Associated Press ahead of a formal announcement.
“I know this group of candidates – which includes experienced legislators, law enforcement officials, small business leaders and business executives – are committed to making Virginia the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family. Together, we will strengthen the spirit of Virginia and deliver results,” Youngkin said in a statement about the group of 19.
All 140 General Assembly seats will be on the ballot this fall in an election that will determine party control of the legislature for the final two years of Youngkin’s term.
Virginia uniquely prohibits its chief executives from seeking a second consecutive four years in office. Partly because of that, Youngkin has faced speculation since his defeat of former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021 that he might next run for president. While he said recently he has no plans to do so “this year,” a forward-looking video released by his political action committee May 18 quickly set off another round of speculation.
Youngkin, a former private equity executive, has been working with a politically divided General Assembly since he took office in January 2022. While he’s been able to notch some wins by securing bipartisan support for parts of his agenda, if he succeeds in flipping the state Senate and holding the House, it would accelerate his agenda, which includes a call for additional tax cuts and greater restrictions on abortion access.
On May 18, Youngkin backed Brewer, a small-business owner who has served in the House since 2018, over former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler in the 17th District, which covers parts of Hampton Roads and Southside. Sadler has outraised Brewer, according to the most recently available finance figures, and the heated contest between the two has involved a lawsuit over the nomination method.
In the Fredericksburg-area 27th District race, the governor backed Durant, a former teacher and freshman delegate, over Matt Strickland, a veteran and restaurant owner who has been involved in a high-profile dispute with the state government over coronavirus restrictions.
Both districts have favored Republicans in recent elections but are expected to be seriously contested in the general election.
Other endorsements were of nonincumbent candidates who will be the Republican nominee in their race. The primary is June 20, with two House nominations set to be settled in party-run contests.
Notably, Youngkin has not yet waded into some of the most high-profile GOP nomination contests, including an incumbent-on-incumbent matchup in Southwest Virginia or a three-way contest for the nomination in a red-leaning suburban Richmond Senate district featuring incumbent firebrand Amanda Chase. Chase does not caucus with fellow Republicans.
Virginia legislative candidates will be running for the first time this year under maps redrawn by independent experts in the redistricting process that ended in late 2021. The district lines were drawn without regard to incumbent protection, which has contributed to a wave of retirements and more contested primaries than in any comparable election cycle in recent decades.
As he ramps up his political operation for this year’s cycle, Youngkin has also been traveling consistently outside of Richmond and highlighting his administration’s work.
In late April, Youngkin returned from his first international trade mission, which included a politically sensitive meeting with the president of Taiwan. Since then, he’s resumed public events around Virginia, including commencement addresses and campaign-style bill signings.
Youngkin’s insistence that he does not plan to launch a bid for president this year has not shut down the speculation. The video released by his PAC May 18 only contributed to that.
Featuring remarks he gave during a recent visit to the Reagan Library and set to dramatic music, Youngkin declared in the video that it is time to “usher in a new era of American values.”
Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement in response to the video that Youngkin had not landed “a single legislative success” and yet was cutting an ad comparing himself to Reagan.
“I could’ve saved him the money and listed his accomplishments in a four letter tweet: none,” she said.
-SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press