Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is preparing to take a step into national politics by launching a pair of new political groups ahead of the midterm election.
Youngkin's new operation will allow him to wade into gubernatorial races across the country on behalf of GOP candidates. Youngkin can also use the apparatus to target a pair of Democratic House members in Virginia whom Republicans are looking to unseat.
While the recently elected Youngkin has yet to declare any interest in running for president in 2024, his decision to set up a political vehicle is a natural one for a politician looking to expand his brand and forge alliances nationally. Youngkin made inroads in Democratic-leaning suburban areas in last year's Virginia election by focusing on coronavirus restrictions and education - issues he conceivably could inject into races outside his home state.
Kristin Davison, a senior adviser for Youngkin's political operation, said the new groups will build on Youngkin's campaign themes. "Looking to 2022, Gov. Youngkin will continue to grow that movement and help other candidates win, especially those that will turn blue states red, just as he did in Virginia last year," Davison said in a statement.
Youngkin has established two organizations for his political work, both of which can accept donations of unlimited size: Spirit of Virginia, a "527" political action committee, and America's Spirit, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group which will not have to disclose its donors but faces some restrictions on how the money is spent.
Spirit of Virginia has already started to promote Youngkin's agenda, running TV ads urging members of the state Legislature to pass his proposed budget.
It is unclear which out-of-state races Youngkin will choose to target. Thirty-six states are holding governor's contests this year, including 16 that feature Democratic incumbents. People familiar with Youngkin's plans say he is looking at several ways of engaging, including through donating money and holding campaign-style events.
"It's great to see Gov. Youngkin take action to support Republicans at the national level. Glenn's race was a blueprint of how to use common sense policies to win the trust of swing voters, and we need to replicate his win," said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the Republican Governors Association co-chair, in a statement.
Those close to Youngkin - who is limited to a single term as governor by Virginia's constitution - say he has been solely focused on pushing forward his policy agenda since taking office, turning away Republicans who have been eager for him to engage in other states following his nationally watched victory. After his November win, the governor received invitations to appear at out-of-state political dinners and other functions, including in New Hampshire - a key early state on the presidential nominating calendar.
The 55-year-old Youngkin, who was formerly an executive at the Carlyle Group, a prominent private equity firm, has neither teased a prospective 2024 campaign nor explicitly closed the door on one. Asked if he had any interest in running during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" last week, Youngkin said only: "I've got a new job in Virginia, and I'm extremely excited to be doing it."
A number of potential Republican presidential candidates have also been creating political vehicles ahead of the midterms. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, for example, have been using PACs to fund travel to early-voting states. Former Vice President Mike Pence has launched a nonprofit group that has run TV advertisements attacking President Joe Biden over energy policy. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, meanwhile, has an allied super PAC that is expected to be heavily engaged in races this year.
Youngkin's apparatus could also be used in next year's Virginia state legislative races, when Republicans will look to achieve full control of the General Assembly for Youngkin's final two years as governor. While Republicans have the majority in the state Senate, Democrats currently control the House of Delegates.
Ron Wright, a member of the Republican Party of Virginia's state central committee, argued that the governor could help to knock off several Democratic congressional incumbents in the coming November elections, noting that in last year's election he made inroads with traditional Democratic constituencies, including among Latino voters.
"Those issues that he's run on haven't gone away," Wright said, adding that Youngkin's status as a nationally recognized figure would be a boon to the state's down-ballot Republican candidates. "You get Gov. Youngkin in there campaigning, he'll do well."