‘A little disappointed’: Youngkin reflects on GOP losses

Democrats won control of Virginia’s legislature on Tuesday, likely ending any hopes Youngkin might have had for mounting a last-minute presidential campaign.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin walks to a news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023 in Richmond, Va., after Democrats swept Tuesday’s legislative elections, retaking full control of the General Assembly after two years of divided power. (AP Photo/Jay Paul)

A day after a stinging electoral defeat that will likely doom any hopes he harbored of mounting a last-minute presidential campaign, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) pledged to work with the incoming Democratic majority on bipartisan education, economic and criminal justice issues.

In his first comments since Tuesday’s election, Youngkin confessed he was “a little disappointed.”

The results, in which Democrats retained control of the state Senate and won back control of the House of Delegates, effectively end any chance Youngkin might have had to build a record of conservative achievement during his final two years in office.

“Going into these elections, we knew that they were going to be tough. I mean, we absolutely knew that these were going to be tight, tight, tight races. And guess what? They were,” Youngkin said. “I think the number one lesson is that Virginia is really purple.”

Youngkin said he had not yet spoken to Democratic leaders.

Two years after winning the governorship and helping Republicans reclaim control of the House of Delegates, Youngkin played an unusually active role in this year’s bid to protect that majority, and to win control of the Democratic-held state Senate.

Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC raised more than $18 million this year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan political news site. The PAC gave nearly $4 million to Republican candidates running for office this year. Youngkin, who sports a strong approval rating for a swing-state governor, appeared at rallies and in advertisements for Republican candidates.

Youngkin’s team urged Republican voters to embrace early and absentee voting, after years in which distrust sewn by former President Donald Trump made winning elections harder for Republican candidates.

Dave Rexrode, Youngkin’s chief political advisor, found silver linings on an otherwise dark day. Republicans carried 13 districts that President Biden had won in 2020, and seven districts that Democratic congressional candidates had carried in 2022, he said.

“In a state that President Biden carried by 10 points just three years ago, Republicans came within just a few thousand votes of winning majorities in both legislative chambers out of roughly 2.3 million votes cast,” Rexrode wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

But Youngkin’s bid to win control of the Senate and maintain control of the House fell flat on Tuesday.

Candidates in many of the key races Democrats captured on Tuesday told voters that a Republican majority would approve new restrictions on abortion rights. Youngkin’s political action committee paid for an advertisement that attempted to coalesce Virginia Republicans around a 15-week ban on abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest or the life and health of the mother.

Youngkin said Wednesday he did not regret taking a stand on abortion, after two years in which Republican candidates effectively ignored an issue that has resonated with voters.

“I think the one thing that we know is that abortion is a really difficult topic, that there is a place to come together around a reasonable limit,” Youngkin said. “I think Virginians don’t want to be extreme in either direction.”

“I think they actually want to find a place to come together. And that’s what I think we tried to represent, reasonableness. And I think, in the long term, reasonableness is where people will come together,” he said.

Democrats said it was Youngkin’s focus on abortion restrictions that helped them make gains. Now that Democrats will take the majority, any hope of adopting those restrictions is dead, said Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

“He has no path forward to ending abortion in the state,” Williams said of Yougkin’s comments. “The Democrats now in both chambers of the legislature will absolutely stop that.”

Youngkin said he would spend his final two years working with Democrats on areas of bipartisan agreement — he cited the economy, education and criminal justice issues.

“These are areas where over the course of the last two years we have come together on a bipartisan basis,”  Yougkin said. “I am optimistic that we can continue to find these most important areas that we can [continue to] move forward.”