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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a first taste of Republicans' Biden-era villains, the Virginia GOP is rolling out some of Donald Trump's favorites — China and Hillary Clinton — for the state's 2021 election.

Why it matters: Virginia’s off-year elections are an early battleground in defining the Republicans’ post-Trump identity. A spate of attacks against GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin appears to be drawing from the same playbook, hyping familiar Trump-era GOP villains.

What’s new: The latest round of ads came from a Virginia-based nonprofit called Americans for Limited Government.

  • ALG has placed radio and television spots going after Youngkin.
  • The former private equity executive is well-positioned in the primary, already raising well over $1 million, and he has substantial personal wealth he can pour into his campaign. Among his formidable challengers are former state House Speaker Kirk Cox and state Sen. Amanda Chase, a hard-right Trump ally.
  • The ads dubiously accuse Youngkin of funding Black Lives Matter protests and Hillary Clinton. They also mention his business dealings in China, with the radio ad punctuating the attack with gong sound effects.
  • ALG has attempted to downplay its politicking in official paperwork. It told a Norfolk radio station its ads do not “communicate a message relating to any political matter of national importance,” a designation requiring additional disclosure in political ad filings.

What they're saying: “These are false and deceptive smears, and the political insiders and previously failed candidates behind them are going back to their old political playbook and hiding behind shady groups because they know their dirty games are rotten to the core,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said.

Another group dubbed the Virginia Cornerstone PAC has run ads with similar messaging.

  • A video from the group also hypes Youngkin’s Chinese business dealings and supposed Clinton backing. (The donations to Clinton and other Democrats all came from the Carlyle Group, his former employer, or his colleagues at the firm — not from Youngkin.)
  • The Cornerstone PAC retained the same firm as ALG to place radio ads in the Virginia governor's race, FCC filings show.
  • Virginia Cornerstone is run by Chris Jankowski, a prominent GOP strategist in the state. He has declined to identify the group’s funders to the media before filing mandatory disclosure reports.
  • In addition to its ads, the group has also posted a 120-page opposition research file about Youngkin on its website.

Phrases from that oppo file appear verbatim on the website of another new political group called Stop Bad Candidates PAC.

  • That PAC’s website, which appears to have been created late last year, is devoted to posting bits of opposition research on Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, whom Stop Bad Candidates — like Virginia Cornerstone — attempt to portray as like-minded.
  • The people, organizations and funders behind Stop Bad Candidates PAC are a mystery. It hasn’t disclosed any information about its finances and did not respond to inquiries from Axios.

The bottom line: All three groups are pushing similar messages, seemingly based on the same research file. But each is careful to obscure information about its operations.

  • For Youngkin’s campaign, that’s making it difficult to nail down precisely who is coming after their candidate.

Go deeper

Cuomo asks New York AG and chief judge to choose "independent" investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A special counselor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Sunday asking the state's attorney general and chief judge to jointly pick an "independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation" to investigate claims of sexual harassment against the governor.

The state of play: The statement is an about-face from Cuomo, who had previously selected a former judge close to a top aide to lead the investigation, the New York Times reported, a move that was widely criticized.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.