Thursday, February 29, 2024

Youngkin Says He’s ‘Disappointed’ in Election Results, Vows to Work with Democrats

Gov. Glenn Youngkin holds a news conference on the steps of the Virginia Capitol to discuss his party’s losses in the 2023 General Assembly elections. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Facing the press on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, Gov. Glenn Youngkin was direct about how he felt about Tuesday’s General Assembly elections.

“I’m a little disappointed, to be clear,” Youngkin said Wednesday in his first public remarks about the outcome.

Nearly halfway through his four-year term, the Republican governor had spent enormous amounts of time and money trying to help the GOP hold the House of Delegates and flip the state Senate. Instead, Democrats held the Senate and flipped the House, an outcome that leaves Youngkin with less legislative power than he had before.

Assuming a more subdued tone than he took during his campaign-season pep rallies, Youngkin said the election results reflect Virginia’s status as a “really purple” state, with many close contests decided by “razor-thin” margins.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Youngkin said. “And we still have a divided government. Which means we all have to come together to progress legislation.”

Some close races were still being watched Wednesday for potential changes to vote counts from late-arriving ballots, but Democrats appeared to be on track to win a 21-19 majority in the Senate and at least a 51-49 House majority. For the 2023 legislative session, Democrats had a 22-18 Senate majority and Republicans had a 52-48 majority in the House.

It remains to be seen what kind of policy agenda Youngkin and a Democratic General Assembly will agree on, but the governor pointed to several issues on which he believed the two parties can work together.

Better schools, safe neighborhoods and an improved mental health system, he said, are areas he’s already been prioritizing.

“These are areas where over the course of the last two years we have come together on a bipartisan basis. Because that’s what Virginia requires,” Youngkin said.

Asked if he feels voters rejected his call to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Youngkin said he was attempting to forge consensus on a difficult topic and still believes “Virginians don’t want to be extreme in either direction.”

The governor said he has not yet spoken to Democratic leader Don Scott, who’s poised to become the first Black House speaker in Virginia history, or top Democrats in the state Senate believed to be in line to lead their majority next year. However, he said he intends to do so once Democratic winners go through the process of formally selecting their new leaders in the coming weeks.

Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker was in attendance at Youngkin’s press conference and told reporters afterward that the governor’s comments were an overly rosy spin on what she said was “a clear rebuke of any abortion ban.”

“Nice try,” she said. “But there is a lot of revisionist history going on there. He was very confident all day yesterday in his live interviews.”

Swecker said she agrees with Youngkin that Virginia is a purple state, but she said that doesn’t account for the fact that voters sent a clear signal they “wanted to keep abortion legal.”

“Two years ago, a slim majority went on a Tinder date with Glenn Youngkin,” Swecker said. “And now are sorry that they swiped right.”

In a memo released Wednesday afternoon, Youngkin’s PAC laid out a case for why, despite losing partisan control, the story was more complicated than a resounding defeat for their side. Youngkin’s political advisers said Republicans won more than a dozen districts that backed President Joe Biden in 2020 and came within “just a few thousand votes of winning majorities in both legislative chambers” despite Democrats having a significant spending advantage on TV ads.

Defeated House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, referenced the wave of abortion-themed ads from Democrats in a more pointed statement released shortly after Youngkin’s press conference.

“In the end, our focus on better schools, safer communities and lowering the cost of living couldn’t overcome a dishonest Democratic focus on a lone issue,” Gilbert said. “Now, our Republican Caucus will again assume the role of the loyal opposition, working with Governor Youngkin to hold the line against the worst left-wing impulses of the incoming Democratic majority and ensure that common-sense ideas aren’t forgotten.”

In a statement released early Wednesday morning, Senate Republican leaders highlighted the fact that their numbers in the Senate will have “increased by one.”

“Our 19 returning senators and senators-elect stand ready to promote our positive agenda of fighting inflation, lowering taxes, supporting law enforcement and getting energy prices under control,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, the chairman of the Senate GOP caucus. “We will also stand strong against the Democrats’ extreme progressive agenda.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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