Washington, DC (CNN)Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, has pitched himself as a businessman and a political outsider.
The former co-chief executive of the private-equity firm Carlyle Group, a global investment firm, Youngkin defeated six other nominees in the state’s Republican primary earlier this year.
Now, he’s vying to be Virginia’s first Republican governor since Bob McDonnell left office in 2014.
After growing up in Richmond and Virginia Beach, Youngkin attended Rice University, where he studied engineering and played basketball, as well as Harvard Business School. He has worked in finance and spent 25 years at the Carlyle Group. Youngkin has also served on the boards of multiple nonprofit organizations and co-founded the Virginia Ready Initiative — which was built in response to Covid-19 and helps Virginians find new jobs.
Youngkin has from the start put a heavy emphasis on cultural issues important to the Republican base.
The GOP candidate says he wants to cut taxes, prioritize small businesses and boost economic growth following the Covid-19 pandemic. He’s focused on combating crime, says he wants to “defend – not defund” law enforcement and get rid of critical race theory in schools.
Youngkin also has embraced “election integrity” as a key issue — threading the needle of acknowledging Republican concerns about the integrity of the vote without fully embracing Trump’s false claims about a stolen 2020 election. Yet, Youngkin did not acknowledge Biden’s presidential win until after he won the nomination in May.
Since winning the Republican nomination, Youngkin has tried to pivot to other issues, a reflection of the fine line he has to walk to appeal to both Trump’s base and to moderate voters in Virginia and has focused his attention and advertising money on introducing himself to voters, highlighting his upbringing in a sweep of softer biography-focused ads that do not mention Trump.
“For too long we have been told there is only one way to do things in Richmond,” Youngkin says in one of his ads. “I’m Glenn Youngkin. I’m not a politician. … It’s a new day here in Virginia. And the future belongs to us, not them.”
As of late, including during the second and final debate of the Virginia governor’s race, Youngkin once again sought to keep his party’s most prominent member, Trump, at arm’s length.
He said that “there wasn’t material fraud” in the 2020 election and it was “certifiably fair.”
He didn’t bring up Trump himself during the debate, and at one point pointed out that it was his opponent, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, who was regularly referencing the former President.
In the past, however, Youngkin’s tried to draw on support from figures in Trump’s broader political world.
Several members of his staff are veterans of Trump’s presidential campaigns and, ahead of the Republican primary, Youngkin ran a TV ad with footage of Trump praising him by name during a White House event on trade.
In recent weeks, Youngkin has made headlines for his stance on vaccine mandates.
The Virginia gubernatorial candidates’ split on vaccines — McAuliffe would require them for students, teachers and health care workers and would support businesses that imposed mandates; Youngkin says he encourages everyone to be vaccinated but opposes mandates — has emerged as a central issue in 2021’s marquee governor’s race.
While Youngkin says he encourages all Virginians to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and even put out a public service announcement persuading Virginians to get the vaccine, he opposes mandatory vaccinations.
“I’ve gotten the vaccine; my family has gotten the vaccine. It’s the best way for people to keep themselves safe. And I in fact have asked everyone in Virginia to please get the vaccine. But I don’t think we should mandate it,” Youngkin said Tuesday.
In recent weeks, Youngkin and McAuliffe have sparred over a number of issues including Covid-19 vaccine mandates, parental rights and schools.
When it comes to parental rights and schools, Youngkin wasted no time turning a comment made by his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, into an attack ad aimed at invigorating base GOP voters and parents.
The moment came during the second and final debate between the two late last month. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said over what should be taught in schools. The former governor later added, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
The comments, after getting considerable pick up within conservative media, quickly became a Youngkin ad and have already become a staple of Youngkin’s pitch in the closing weeks of the race to lead the Commonwealth.
“If you had any doubt — any doubt whatsoever — about Terry McAuliffe’s principles, he laid them bare last week when he said, he said parents do not have a right to be involved in their kid’s education,” Youngkin said earlier this month.
His campaign hopes it will serve as a rallying cry that could harness the recent Republican focus on education issues, ranging from what should be taught in public schools to issues around transgender students. But the ultimate goal is to cut into McAuliffe’s support with swing voters in key areas like the vote-rich Northern Virginia suburbs near Washington, DC.