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The Republican Governor of Virginia giving a speech on Saturday is unremarkable.
Except he succeeds in Nebraska.
Glenn Youngkin’s unusual trip to the Cornhusker State is starting to draw attention as rumors swirl about a possible GOP presidential bid in 2024.
Youngkin, who scored an upset victory last year in the Old Dominion, is heading to Nebraska this weekend to rally party loyalists at the state’s GOP convention.
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Political strategists say the trip has sparked speculation given Nebraska’s proximity and media market overlap with Iowa, the first state to hold a contest in the presidential primaries.
Nebraska’s largest media market, Omaha, is across from Iowa.
“Going to Nebraska is about as close as going to Iowa without actually setting foot in the state,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican consultant who has run several high-profile campaigns. “It’s hard to know for certain his motivation, but it looks like he’s at least exploring or strongly flirting with the idea of a race.”
Youngkin’s political team denies there is any self-serving political reason for the trip. They say his keynote address at the convention is nothing more than a favor for Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who is also president of the Republican Governors Association.
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The timing of the visit is fortuitous, however, as it coincides with a slew of positive media attention and high-profile actions by Youngkin.
Last month, the governor signed into law his first two-year state budget, delivering on his campaign promise to cut taxes while pumping more money into education than any administration in history.
The budget provided Youngkin with a big hit just seven months into his tenure. It also freed up time for the governor since the Virginia legislature will only meet for 30 days next year to focus on non-budget matters.
Youngkin, who cannot run again, seems particularly ambitious to take advantage of the downtime.
The governor has established a state and national political action committee to help elect candidates in the November ballot. One such PAC has already raised more than $2.6 million, thanks to Youngkin’s wise solicitation of domestic megadonors.
Youngkin also plans to travel through Virginia and the rest of the country this cycle campaigning for Republicans.
“It will be worth keeping an eye on Youngkin as he begins to raise his national profile,” Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty wrote. “Republicans have won the popular vote in just one presidential election since 1988. He may not be the guy to end this drought. But it’s high time for them to find someone that it is.”
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GOP strategists say the governor could be a contender if he chooses to get involved in the race. They noted that Youngkin ran what can be described as a national race last year in a state that many had characterized as solidly Democratic.
“He has an interesting message that might resonate with voters, especially those looking for a fresh face,” Steinhauser said. “He could be an alternative to Trump, but also someone more acceptable to the Republican majority because he’s not seen as a Never Trumper.”
It remains to be seen if this path will be big enough in 2024, especially if Trump decides to run again. Either way, most say the presidential contest will be wider than most people think.
“The race is pretty open, especially here in Iowa,” said Bob Vander Plaats, who leads Iowa’s powerful and socially conservative band The Family Leader. “There are a lot of strong Trump supporters and people grateful for what the former president has done, but there are also people who are ready to move on.”
Vander Plaats argued that although Trump is the frontrunner, others could burst, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He added that although Youngkin was talented, he was still largely unknown in Iowa.
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“This trip to Nebraska might get him talking a bit from here,” he said. “But it’s also likely to raise questions about why a newly elected governor is on the track and not at home in the lead. That’s something he’ll have to contend with if he chooses to race.”