Sep 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Youngkin's nightmare: A GOP-led government shutdown

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is shown wearing a blue suit and a green tie.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at an Economic Club of Washington event Tuesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some big-money GOP donors are hoping that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin will jump into the presidential race as a last-ditch Trump alternative — but a shutdown of the federal government could complicate any such plans.

Why it matters: Youngkin hasn't ruled out a presidential run, but his first priority is leading Republicans to win control of Virginia's legislature this November.

  • That could make things easier for his conservative agenda and boost his credentials as a national candidate.

Yes, but: A shutdown forced by Republicans in Congress would make that scenario more difficult for Youngkin — and send economic ripples through politically divided Virginia.

  • The state is home to more than 140,000 federal workers — half of them in Northern Virginia, just outside D.C. — plus thousands more who do business with the government.
  • Virginia Republicans are fretting about voters taking out their anger on the GOP in November's state elections if there's a shutdown.
  • "In these NoVa districts, a shutdown is just not helpful," said former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). "We saw that in the government shutdown in 2013 — it killed Ken Cuccinelli," Davis said, referring to the GOP candidate for Virginia governor who lost by 2.6 percentage points that year.
  • "Republicans in Congress are making it harder for Republicans in Virginia to win," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at University of Mary Washington. "Taking away someone's paycheck, even temporarily, is a major source of anxiety."

The big picture: Youngkin, a former college basketball player and private equity executive, made national headlines in 2021 when he upset former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state Joe Biden had won by 10 points a year earlier.

  • Youngkin is widely viewed as a potential presidential candidate — and hasn't exactly tamped down speculation about that.
  • "There might be others," Youngkin said at an Economic Club of Washington event Tuesday, when asked whether he plans to run for another public office.

But in Virginia, Youngkin has been blocked from enacting much of his agenda by Virginia's Senate, which Democrats control 22-18.

  • Controlling both chambers would give him a chance to pass legislation — including a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions — that could be a springboard for a potential GOP presidential run.

Driving the news: Youngkin has been barnstorming the state, urging voters to flip the state Senate and preserve Republicans' narrow edge in the House of Delegates.

  • His political action committee raised a record $5.75 million last quarter and Republicans — responding to how abortion restrictions haven't played well for them in recent elections — are going on offense, accusing Democrats of favoring "no limits" on abortions.
  • Youngkin also wants to cut taxes and give parents more say in what's taught in public schools.

The intrigue: Major GOP donors have made overtures to Youngkin and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp about jumping into the presidential race this cycle, hoping to keep former President Trump from winning the GOP nomination again.

  • It's possible for Youngkin to get in the race after Virginia's Nov. 7 elections, though it would mean missing the filing deadlines for early presidential contests in states such as Nevada and South Carolina.
  • But if Virginia voters don't give his party a mandate in November, talk of him as a presidential contender in 2024 is likely to fade.

What they're saying: Democrats are salivating at the prospect of blaming a shutdown on Republicans.

  • "If I were Glenn Youngkin, I'd be on the phone saying, 'Make a deal,' because it's really clear that this is a Republican shutdown," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) "It'll be terrible, and terrible for them."
  • But Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) — who's among the hardline conservatives in the House who could force a shutdown — isn't convinced that voters will punish state legislative candidates if there is a shutdown.
  • "Governor Youngkin is doing a great job and is off to a great start," Good said. "Virginians recognize that and are going to respond by giving him a working majority" in the legislature.

Youngkin, meanwhile, is watching Congress with interest.

  • "Let's just see how these next nine days play out," he said last Thursday, referring to the federal government's funding deadline this weekend to avoid a shutdown.
  • "The state's in good shape. We'll be fine."

Andrew Solender contributed to this story.

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