Virginia: Quién es más Reagan?

An embarrassment of riches or just a well-funded opportunity?

Back in March, I listened to Virginia conservative talk radio, from John Reid's excellent morning show in Richmond to Larry O'Connor's afternoon show in northern Virginia and D.C., and I got the impression that this Glenn Youngkin fellow was a left-"liberal" wolf in GOP sheepskin.  

Coverage focused in particular on Youngkin's past donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which beyond its far left politics is now charged variously as being a con game to enrich its founders and as (paradoxically) having discriminated against some of its own African American employees.  (Youngkin says he wasn't as political back then, and did not realize what kind of group he was supporting.  Perhaps like a younger Donald Trump hobnobbing with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.)

Many were also not so happy with Youngkin's long career working at and running the Carlyle Group, an investment firm usually described as a Beltway bandit and part of the political class and which some described as an arms merchant or a funder of arms merchants.

Back then I thought, and no doubt hoped, these exposures had done in Mr. Glenn Youngkin.

At the first Pete Snyder event I attended, an outdoor BBQ in Fairfax County, I ran into an acquaintance who like me attended (pre-COVID) the famous D.C. Wednesday morning conservative meeting run by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.  I asked him about the other candidates in the race, and when I got to Youngkin he said "He's a Mitt Romney."  Given what I had heard, I accepted this as fact.

Since then I have attended two Snyder campaign events and two Youngkin campaign events (and also a local pro-Trump Republican event where candidate Sergio de la Pena's son was in attendance).  And since then, both Snyder and Youngkin have received major conservative endorsements.  Former White House Presidential Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who lived in Arlington, Virginia while working in the Trump White House, and enrolled her three children in her local public school, Jamestown Elementary) came back to Virginia to stump for Snyder.  Senator Ted Cruz has campaigned across the state with Glenn Youngkin (who earned a B.S. in engineering from Rice University in Texas, as well as a Harvard MBA), with better television coverage than Huckabee seems to have garnered Snyder (at least from what I saw).  Cruz said he was supporting "the candidate who can win."

However, Youngkin may have captured the real feather in the cap for conservative voters.  After having never had a Facebook account until he opened one for his campaign, Youngkin was briefly suspended in the past 48 hours from Facebook, for posting a link to a Tucker Carlson clip.  If he only had time to appeal to all the Republican primary voters who have been censored on social media, this alone might clinch it for him.

Each man, interestingly, has libertarian voters at his events or on his staff.  Snyder has as a main campaign staffer a veteran of Ron Paul affiliates and libertarian leaning groups like the Americans for Prosperity.  Youngkin has a young woman who I am actually used to seeing at northern Virginia Libertarian Party happy hours.  Given how much the libertarians were bashed back in 2013 for the Robert Sarvis for Governor Campaign, when Sarvis's 5+% of the vote was thought to have "belonged" to Ken Cuccinelli such that Sarvis was said to have "elected" Terry McAuliffe, it is interesting that so many libertarians can be seen at each candidate's events.

Both men also have some resources, though vastly different amounts.  Pete Snyder seems to be the less wealthy, though in 2012 he founded an angel investment firm, Disrupter Capital, that funds start-ups, including news sites like IJ Review.  Youngkin is estimated more in the $250 million range, with a $17 million retirement package from the Carlyle Group alone.

Youngkin's events have more people, and are swankier, featuring open bars and free food.  His event on primary election eve featured beer and wine for adults (along with hot dogs, ice cream and nachos) but also a snow cone station for the kids.  And there were pre-teen kids,  As well as a lot of young, attractive, even hot, people under 30 and 40.  Both Snyder and Youngkin crowds feature a mix of ages and a good dose of black, Asian and Latin supporters, but the Youngkin crowds do seem to include more younger people.  Youngkin's crowds also included the only person with a nose ring (my aforementioned Libertarian Party gal), and a realtor I recognized as a semi-regular at events of the gay GOP group, Log Cabin Republicans.  (Youngkin events also feature a large security presence, huge young men with beards and tattoos, with bulging muscles in skin tight black clothes, who all look like stunt men for Liam Hemsworth.)

Perhaps most telling, other Virginia candidates for office, like Jason Miyares, who is running for Attorney General, showed up at Youngkin events, but there were none at either Snyder event.

On issues the two men give identical lists of issues:  school choice, re-opening schools, telling teacher unions they can meet the same fate as the air traffic controllers under Reagan, re-opening the economy, free markets, voter integrity, respecting the police and the military, protecting the right to life.

But there is a difference.

Youngkin has more people at his events, and they include his wife, his pastor, his pastor's family, and his children, including a tall and gorgeous son (who seems to be working the crowd and signaling his father to stand up, speak louder, hit certain points, etc.)  Snyder's family has not attended any event I was at.    Youngkin's crowds seem slightly more diverse, mainly because they are larger.  But Youngkin also projects what (pop) psychology currently calls "the growth mindset."  He's sunny and upbeat, a happy warrior.  He speaks of investing $400,000 in school board and other local races to counter outside dark money from George Soros and others.  Pete Snyder does not project the opposite image, but he is not as sunny and upbeat.  

Snyder is stylistically less "It's morning in America!" than Youngkin.  An acquaintance who is a Congressional staffer at the election eve Youngkin event at the Fairview Park Marriott in Fairfax County told me before the event he was leaning Snyder, but now may lean Youngkin.

 So what voters have to make up their minds about is, will Youngkin's Reaganite optimism not just be style but be followed up with Reaganite substance?

A shorter version of this article was published in the excellent Virginia politics blog, Bacon’s Rebellion.