RICHMOND — Gov. Glenn Youngkin plans to travel the country promoting Republican candidates for governor through two newly formed political organizations, fueling speculation that the new governor has his eye on national office and drawing ridicule from Democrats who note his work in Virginia has barely gotten underway.
While Virginia governors typically set up political entities to help their party in in-state races, Youngkin (R) has created two, both with aspirations stretching far beyond the Old Dominion.
Through Spirit of Virginia, a political action committee, and America’s Spirit, a “social welfare organization” that does not have to disclose its donors, Youngkin will promote his agenda, support Virginia Republicans running for the state legislature and Congress — and campaign for Republicans seeking the governor’s mansion in other states, Youngkin adviser Kristin Davison said Thursday.
“He recognizes that the movement that he sparked in Virginia was growing across the country and that there’s a lot of good that could be done by him jumping in and helping a few other candidates,” Davison said. “He’s really looking to tap into that excitement and help other candidates win, particularly those that are in blue states — looking to flip them red.”
Davison confirmed the formation of the two entities Thursday, as state budget negotiations stalled and prospects were dimming for a deal to be struck in time for legislators to vote when they reconvene next week for their annual “veto” session.
Some Democrats saw the news as proof that Youngkin is mulling a run for the White House in 2024, a goal they called presumptuous for a governor who is just three months into his term and has yet to wrangle a state budget or most of his legislative priorities out of a divided General Assembly.
“You don’t set up two federal, dark-money PACs if your ambition lies in flipping a legislature,” Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said. “I don’t think he’s accomplished much of anything yet. … He’s like, five minutes into the first quarter of a football game, and he’s already talking about the Super Bowl.”
Youngkin has deflected questions about any presidential aspirations.
“I’ve got a new job in Virginia and I’m extremely excited to be doing it,” he said last week when asked on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” about plans to run for higher office, WMAL reported.
A political newcomer and former Carlyle Group executive who plowed $20 million of his own money into last fall’s campaign, Youngkin vaulted from obscurity to lists of potential presidential contenders when he flipped seemingly blue Virginia red.
Feeding that speculation was Youngkin’s ability to pull off a high-wire act during the campaign — tossing red meat on issues such as critical race theory in schools to fans of former president Donald Trump without turning off moderates in a state that gave President Biden a 10-point win. So, too, has his swing to the right since taking office, targeting equity initiatives and school mask mandates, which many political observers interpret as a bid for national headlines.
Youngkin acknowledged the creation of the Spirit of Virginia PAC a month ago, as he explained how he was funding a TV ad meant to pressure Democrats who control the state Senate to accept the package of tax cuts that he and the Republican-led House want in the state budget. The PAC drew little notice at the time because it was not then clear that the entity would go beyond the in-state politics of a run-of-the-mill governor’s PAC.
The formation of America’s Spirit and the national goals of both political entities were first reported by Politico.
Spirit of Virginia is what’s known as a 527 organization, named for a section in the federal tax code, that can directly engage in politics. America’s Spirit is a 501(c)(4) organization, named for another section, that can run issue-based ads and does not need to disclose its donors. Neither has limits on donations.
Both entities will be used inside and outside Virginia this year for three purposes: to promote Youngkin’s agenda; to support GOP congressional candidates in Virginia, in the competitive 2nd and 7th districts and possibly the 10th District; and to help GOP candidates for governor in other states, Davison said.
Youngkin does not plan to campaign for Congressional candidates outside of Virginia this year, she said.
Thirty-six states have governor’s races this year, and Youngkin has not decided on which ones he intends to help, in part because he is still focused on wrapping up the budget and other outstanding bills from a General Assembly session forced into the overtime of a special session, Davison said.
The General Assembly will reconvene Wednesday for its annual “veto” session to consider Youngkin’s amendments and vetoes, but legislators said hopes were fading that a budget deal could be struck in time for that gathering.
Budget negotiations have gone into overtime before and there is no risk of a state government shutdown unless a spending plan is not adopted by July 1. Yet Youngkin seems to have driven the House and Senate farther apart since they gaveled out of regular session in March, first by proposing a gas tax holiday that the House embraced and the Senate rejected, then by enacting a string of unusual vetoes and amendments that inflamed partisan tensions with Democrats.
“He’s trying to … get the budget through and still wrapping up some legislative stuff,” Davison said. “So we just haven’t narrowed it down yet.”