Election Night’s Biggest Loser: Glenn Youngkin

Election Night’s Biggest Loser: Glenn Youngkin

Election Night’s Biggest Loser: Glenn Youngkin

The Virginia governor put himself on the ballot, trying to curb abortion rights, gun safety, and educational freedom. He lost badly.


Maybe Glenn Youngkin got a little too big for his fleece britches.

That’s a (bad) joke; he became famous for his fleece vests, not fleece pants. But he did try to ride his semi-surprise 2021 gubernatorial victory as a fleece-wearing suburban dad (not the tailor-suited Carlyle exec he was) into a 2023 state government trifecta, raising money and campaigning to get Republicans control of the state Senate, where Democrats have blocked his regressive agenda, as well as holding the House of Delegates, which the GOP clawed back the year he won.

He spent more than $14 million and failed. Democrats kept their lead in the state Senate. More surprisingly, they took back the House, winning at least 51 seats; final margins for both chambers will come later Wednesday. Youngkin needed a Senate victory to enact his promised 15-week abortion ban and other right-wing measures. Instead, he lost both houses in Virginia’s general assembly.

Along with overwhelming pro-choice victories on Ohio’s constitutional Issue 1, as well as Kentucky’s Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s slam-dunk reelection, abortion rights advocates had a great night. Youngkin’s humiliating defeat is special, though. In 2017, the anti-Trump resistance took an astonishing 15 seats in the House of Delegates. The 2021 Virginia losses were devastating for progressives, and were also viewed as a Joe Biden backlash. This victory is enormous.

Also, practically: Virginia is the only Southern state that hasn’t imposed drastic limits on abortion since the end of Roe v. Wade. I haven’t seen decent drill-down results yet, but trust me: Women voters made this happen. The last big state poll showed abortion was motivating 70 percent of Virginia women voters, compared to 47 percent who said that was their top issue in 2019.

Loudoun County’s Russet Perry is the new state senator from District 31, which has long been considered considered the most symbolic swing race out there. Several sources told me early Tuesday that if Perry won, Democrats would hold the Senate. Perry staked her race on abortion—here is one great ad. She also just plain mocked opponent Juan Pablo Segura, doughnut mogul, for trying to turn the crime issue against her—she’s a former prosecutor as well as a former CIA agent.

Perry bested Segura on both counts.

Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC gave $300,000 to Segura in October, and a quarter-million in September. That’s on the late side, though, in a race that had long been marked nationally as a big one for both sides. It turns out a lot of Youngkin’s contributions came in September and October. He gave almost a quarter of a million to GOP Senator Siobhan Dunnevant in early October (to be fair, on top of almost $700,000 he gave her in September). But money coming in October can be hard to spend. Dunnevant lost to Democratic Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, part of the progressive class of 2017.

“Youngkin raised millions over the summer,” says Carolyn Fiddler, a writer and political operative steeped in Virginia politics, who was bewildered by Youngkin’s late spending. “That looks like butt-covering money, coming so late.” We’ll have to see final spending reports, but it could turn out that Youngkin was mainly raising that cash for his own political ambitions.

Those ambitions might have been advanced by winning the state Senate and keeping the House and having an actual agenda of accomplishment, however regressive, to run on. That’s not going to happen.

Other highlights of Tuesday night include 2017 cycle stars Jennifer Carroll Foy and Danica Roem moving up to the Senate. Carroll Foy gave up her delegate seat for an unsuccessful run for governor in 2021; Roem was Virginia’s first trans legislator. Both are progressive favorites. As is Delegate Nadarius Clark, who won a slightly different district (maps were redrawn, more fairly, but it made it hard for incumbents to run as incumbents). And former delegate Joshua Cole, who lost his seat in the disaster of 2021, is going back to Richmond, after running four races in six years.

“When I was a delegate, I was the poorest legislator in Richmond,” Cole said in a moving election night statement. “But I come to this work with a sincere belief that a better, safer, more fair commonwealth is possible.”

Cole’s opponent, by the way, got more than $600,000 from Youngkin. But most of it came in October.

Another Virginia race getting national attention featured progressive parent activist Allison Spillman facing well-funded conservative newcomer and private-school parent Meg Scalia Bryce for an at-large school board seat in Albermarle County, home to Charlottesville. I wrote about this race, and National Review’s Ramesh Ponneru clapped back that I got it wrong—Bryce’s anti-trans positions and her denial of “systemic racism” were mainstream views. Also, he thought it indelicate of me to emphasize that Bryce is Antonin Scalia’s daughter. (Please feel free to talk about the way I got my values from my dad if I ever run for office. Or any time you want to.)

Spillman beat Bryce 56 to 44 percent. Democrats also won back the Loudoun County school board, an epicenter of GOP backlash just two years ago.

The big loser, Suburban Fleece Daddy Youngkin, held out the hope of Trumpism after Trump. Trump is losing in the courts this week; Youngkin just lost big at the polls. People freaking out over bad polling for Joe Biden—at the same time in the election cycle the pundits were sure Mitt Romney would clobber Barack Obama—really ought to pore over Virginia election results instead.

I do think Trump won Tuesday night, though: the GOP billionaires who were talking about drafting Youngkin to challenge the 91-felony-count guy next year are skulking away with their wallets between their legs. Trump will have no serious GOP challenger. Except himself.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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