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3 takeaways from Youngkin’s winning Republican playbook in a state Biden won

Youngkin attempted to appeal to far-right and moderate Republicans and independents alike

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin speaks at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.
Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin speaks at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, after he defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s win in Virginia’s governor’s race this week showed Republicans have a path to victory in a commonwealth won by President Joe Biden by 10 percentage points just one year ago.

Youngkin did have history on his side going into Election Day. In Virginia, the gubernatorial candidate from the incumbent president’s party has lost every election going back to 1981, except one: this year’s Democratic candidate former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, when he ran in 2013. Democrats hoping McAuliffe could defy historic trends again were disappointed.

Youngkin beat McAuliffe by about 2 percentage points, improving on former President Donald Trump’s Virginia performance with a playbook that kept Trump at a strategic distance and attempted to appeal to far-right and moderate Republicans and independents alike.

Here are three issues Youngkin played both sides on:

COVID-19

Youngkin opposed vaccine mandates but filmed a public service announcement-style ad in which he said he and his family got vaccinated against COVID-19 and he hoped others would as well.

Election fraud

Shortly after announcing his campaign, Youngkin launched an “Election Integrity Task Force” to grow his mailing list, raise money and appeal to Republicans who, despite a lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud, believe Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Virginia’s bipartisan State Board of Elections voted unanimously to certify the commonwealth’s election results last November.

Then, in October, after spending months dodging questions about the 2020 election, Youngkin said in a statement that he “would have certified the election” if he were governor and that “Joe Biden was legitimately elected.”

Though Youngkin’s admission that Biden won transgresses Trump’s typical standard for endorsements, the former president didn’t punish Youngkin over it, nor over his disavowal over the violence on Jan. 6.

When Youngkin supporters pledged to an American flag that was said to have been at the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol, Youngkin distanced himself from it, calling it “weird and wrong” and saying that the “violence that occurred on Jan. 6 was sickening.” The pledge was held at an event put on by a former Trump surrogate that Youngkin did not attend.

Former President Trump

Trump endorsed Youngkin and took credit for his win, but Trump’s role in the campaign was limited to lower profile efforts, like emails and tele-rallies. Trump suggested he’d hold a rally in Arlington a week ago, but one was never held.

Rather than holding a big, in-person rally with Youngkin as he has for other Republicans this year, Trump’s role in the campaign was limited and strategic, helping Youngkin appeal to Trump supporters without more closely linking himself to the former president.

“Candidates matter,” Youngkin chief strategist Jeff Roe told The Associated Press. “We weren’t defined by Obama, we weren’t defined by Trump, we were defined by Glenn.”