The strategists who made the 'Youngkin Republican'

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For the first time in 12 years, a Republican won the governorship in Virginia. And it wasn’t just any victory — to claim the seat, Glenn Youngkin had to beat Terry McAuliffe, former governor and Democratic royalty. Ryan Lizza digs into the narrow win with Youngkin campaign strategists Jeff Roe and Kristin Davison, and the mistakes they think McAuliffe’s campaign made. Plus, senior politics editor Charlie Mahtesian on the significant places Youngkin gained the most votes.

For an edited transcript of Ryan’s conversation with Jeff Roe and Kristin Davison, click here.

On winning in the suburbs:

“The Republicans have been revolutionaries for most of the 2000s, and they lost mightily because of it. A lot of people blamed President Trump for that. And it's not because of him, it's because of the construct of our party. Democrats now are the revolutionaries. It just took them 10 months, what took us 10 years, and they're going to hollow out their version of the suburbs.” — Jeff Roe, campaign strategist for Republican governor-elect Glenn Youngkin

On keeping the race “local”:

“In a governor's race, if you go knock on a door and say, ‘I'm running for governor,’ they're going to say, ‘Oh, hi, are you Republican or Democrat?’ Partisanship is typically an early question. But then they say, “What do you think about education? What do you think about jobs? What do you think about roads and bridges?’ and that sort of thing. It's all local stuff. If you run for Senate, they’re like, ‘Did you see Biden fell asleep in the climate change conference? Did you see Donald Trump play golf yesterday?’ I mean, it's all national stuff. ‘What about the reconciliation?’ And all these people are like mini pundits about national issues. But in Virginia, if you go to Danville and knock on the door, they're literally going to ask why you can’t fix the damn roads, and why we don't have broadband.’ It's a completely different prism. Congress and Senate, it's ideological, not local. It's all national. But for governor, it’s profile, it’s vision, it’s leadership, it’s intrinsic qualities.” — Jeff Roe, campaign strategist for Glenn Youngkin

On the McAuliffe campaign’s missed opportunities:

“I would have hit us on education first a lot harder than they did. That's actually what I was afraid of for most of the time, annoying everyone about it. But Terry [McAuliffe] focused so much on [Donald] Trump and made his campaign so much about Trump, then abortion, and then I think climate change was in there for a minute. It's like they literally took the Rolodex of all the base issues and tried to hit us as being extreme on them.… And what they should have done instead was go towards the typical: Democrats are very good at painting Republicans as being bad on education, saying we’re going to fire teachers and cut pay. Having been governor before, he had a record there. He should have hit us first and disqualified the issue.” — Kristin Davison, campaign strategist for Glenn Youngkin

On not campaigning with Trump:

“Terry McAuliffe was less popular than Biden was here. Now, if Biden was super popular, he could probably have ridden that to a victory. But it was never going to be part of our culture to associate our brand with any other Republican, when we were creating our own brand for Glenn [Youngkin]. And our brand for Glenn was not in the image of anyone else. And when he got in [the race], our advice was: you don't have to choose to be a Huckabee Republican or a Cruz Republican or a Rand Paul Republican or a Trump Republican or Romney Republican. You don't have to make that choice. You're a Youngkin Republican. Plant your post and that’s your guidepost, and be your own guy. Otherwise, the media and all the pundits will try and place you in some camp — and definitely [Terry] McAuliffe will.” — Jeff Roe, campaign strategist for Glenn Youngkin

On Youngkin’s performance in rural Virginia:

“It was pretty stunning because Trump has turbocharged the rural vote beginning in 2016, and then he amped it up again in 2020. And now what we saw in Virginia is that Youngkin turbocharged it once again. I mean, just when you thought you couldn't squeeze any more juice out of that lemon, Youngkin managed to. He found more votes. And that is a reflection of his ability to walk that balancing line, focusing on cultural issues that mattered a lot in those kinds of places.” — Charlie Mahtesian, POLITICO senior politics editor

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