Glenn Youngkin, the multimillionaire businessman who sought to cast himself as a political outsider with the best chance to challenge Democratic power, will represent Republicans in the race to become Virginia’s next governor.
Youngkin prevailed Monday night as entrepreneur Pete Snyder, his final rival for the nomination, conceded during the sixth round of vote counting at the Richmond Marriott.
The 54-year-old from Fairfax County was a late entrant in the campaign, with little name recognition in the tight-knit Virginia GOP, which tasked a relatively small number of party loyalists with choosing its nominee in a convention.
Fueled by his own fortune, Youngkin, former CEO of a global investment firm, used the biggest war chest in the race to promote stricter voting laws, the protection of the state’s right-to-work status, under which membership in a union cannot be a condition of employment, and the end of “liberal” influence on public schools.
He will become the face of the state party as it heads into a pivotal November election, when the GOP will try to end its banishment from the Executive Mansion since Bob McDonnell left office in 2014.
“I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me," said Youngkin, former co-CEO of The Carlyle Group. "Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond."
Youngkin prevailed in what became a close match-up against Snyder and Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield. The crowded race also included former House Speaker Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, whose fourth place finish marked the likely end of his 30-year political career.
Snyder said in a statement: "While we certainly would have preferred a win tonight, I want to congratulate Glenn Youngkin, his family and his team on a tremendous race and a deserved win. He and the entire Republican ticket will have my full support."
Also in the running in earlier rounds were former Pentagon official Sergio de la Peña, former think-tank CEO Peter Doran and former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson, who together attracted about 7% of the vote.
Republicans chose their nominee by voting Saturday in an "unassembled" convention with balloting at 39 sites across the state. It attracted 30,000 delegates - the largest convention the party has ever held. The number of voters still paled in comparison with the estimated 300,00 to 400,000 who would have cast ballots in a statewide primary.
Republicans used a ranked-choice voting process to select their nominee, asking voters to rank the seven candidates in order of preference. On Monday, as tellers hand counted the ballots, the candidate with the fewest votes in each round was eliminated. Axed candidates saw their support redistributed according to their delegates' next choices among the remaining candidates.
Votes in the GOP convention contests are weighted to reward local units - representing counties and cities - that had high GOP voter turnout in the most recent presidential and gubernatorial elections.
The defeat of Chase, who has clashed with her party's establishment and calls herself "Trump in heels," came one round after Cox was eliminated.
Youngkin led with 42.3% of the weighted vote tally after the first four rounds, followed by Snyder with 32.5% and Chase with 25.2%. A candidate needed to secure more than 50% of the weighted tally to win the party's nomination.
In the first round, before any votes were reallocated, Youngkin and Snyder dominated the voting by delegates from the state's biggest localities. While Youngkin carried Fairfax County and Virginia Beach handily, they tied for the lead in Loudoun County. Youngkin edged Snyder in Prince William County and the city of Chesapeake.
Youngkin easily carried Henrico County in a blow to Cox and Chase. Cox edged Chase to carry Chesterfield County and Chase led the field in Hanover County.
In a state-run primary, Youngkin would have been declared the winner in the first round.
Youngkin spent the last few days of the campaign touting an endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who campaigned with him in the homestretch, and criticizing Democrat control in Richmond, in particular, the closure of schools and early proposals intended to make the state’s curriculum more inclusive.
Youngkin was endorsed by Corey Stewart, who ran as the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018 while courting white nationalists. The Youngkin campaign has not addressed the endorsement.
Democrats quickly seized on Youngkin’s win. “In Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia GOP has nominated a far-right extremist who has demonstrated allegiance to Donald Trump,” Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker said in a statement. “Virginians have repeatedly rejected Trump’s dangerous extremism - and this November, they will reject Glenn Youngkin, too.”
Youngkin grew up in Bon Air and says that when he was in 7th grade his family moved to Virginia Beach after his father lost a job. Youngkin played basketball at Norfolk Academy and earned a scholarship to play at Rice University in Texas. He received a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a B.A. in managerial studies from Rice and an MBA at Harvard University. He lives in Great Falls with his wife, Suzanne; they have four children.
During the campaign Youngkin presented himself as an up-by-the-bootstraps businessman and devout Christian who jumped into politics after watching “career politicians and insiders in Richmond turn our commonwealth into California or New York.”
The bitter fight for the GOP nomination featured heavy spending on attack mailers from Youngkin and Snyder, also a millionaire, and shadowy, untraceable political groups.
Two mailers from unclear sources depicted Youngkin as a “woke CEO” with “liberal madness,” highlighting a news release from The Carlyle Group in which Youngkin and then-fellow co-CEO Kewsong Lee vowed to help fight racism and discrimination. The news release said the company would match employee donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative to support their work on “social justice and reform of the US criminal justice system.”
“Glenn Youngkin supports an anti-conservative organization. That’s the real Glenn Youngkin,” the glossy mailer read.
Youngkin used his financial power to prevail. He spent 25 years at The Carlyle Group, which is based in Washington and has more than $200 billion in assets. Youngkin retired in July to pursue “public service activities.” His compensation package approached $17 million and his net worth is estimated at $200 million.
Youngkin had spent $4.4 million through the first quarter of the year, and had lent his own campaign $5.5 million as of March 31, according to financial disclosures.
At one polling place in Doswell on Saturday, a convention voter declined a Youngkin pamphlet, saying, “That guy’s already filled my mailbox.”
Democrats will nominate their candidate in a June 8 primary from a field of five: former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy of Prince William; Del. Lee Carter of Manassas; Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the apparent front-runner; and Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond.
“For the past year, Virginians have witnessed Republican candidates fawn all over Donald Trump, parrot his dangerous and racist rhetoric, and fully embrace his extreme, right-wing agenda," McAuliffe said in a statement Monday night.
"Now, Glenn Youngkin has paid enough to purchase the Republican gubernatorial nomination so he can run Donald Trump's dangerous playbook here in Virginia."
The five Democrats, and Youngkin, are vying to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam, who is limited to one term by the Virginia constitution. Virginia is the only state in which governors may not serve consecutive terms.
Longtime Virginia political observer Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that even if the Democratic nominee is McAuliffe, a powerful, well-connected fundraiser, Youngkin will pose a threat.
“I think McAuliffe has to take him seriously. I’ve heard Youngkin can spend $30 million or more of his own money, in addition to state and national dollars. This is real money, and even McAuliffe will have a hard time competing with that kind of money,” Sabato said.
He added that Youngkin’s limited time in the public limelight will serve as a shield from attacks. “In modern political American life, it really helps to have no record.”
Snyder also presented himself as a political outsider and made the reopening of schools a key campaign message.
Chase could not be reached for comment Monday night. Shayne Snavely, one of Chase’s campaign observers, said: “We’re going dark for a couple of days and assessing our options.”
Cox’s downfall early in Monday's count appears to close his political career; aides have said for months that the 63-year-old is not likely to run again for elected office.
Cox will not seek re-election this fall in the 68th House district, in which he was reelected in 2019 after court-mandated redistricting increased the number of Democrat-leaning voters in the district. It was a bittersweet win for Cox, who on the same night watched his party lose control of the Senate, the House of Delegates and his speaker’s gavel.
Cox held a call with his campaign staff at around 6 p.m., Monday when it became clear that the votes did not exist to propel him to victory. According to a campaign staffer who was on the call, Cox said he was proud of the campaign he ran, which focused on issues and was light on attacks against the other candidates.
Cox could not be reached for comment late Monday.
On Sunday Del. Jayson Miyares prevailed over three opponents as the GOP's nominee for attorney general. On Tuesday Republicans plan to round out their statewide ticket as the vote counters turn to the party's six-way contest for lieutenant governor.