Glenn Youngkin Was a Traditional Republican. Then He Became a Culture Warrior.

The Youngkin campaign did not respond to an interview request.

On paper at least, Mr. Youngkin, 54, is an odd fit for a party that has rejected the elitism he embodies. In fact, his life and career have had far more in common with Mitt Romney’s than Mr. Trump’s: a degree from Harvard Business School, a long and lucrative career in private equity, devout religious convictions and even a family love of horses. He owns a 31-acre horse farm in Fairfax County with his wife, Suzanne.

Before he entered the governor’s race — his first try at elected office — Mr. Youngkin donated extensively to Republican candidates who were aligned with the party’s establishment wing: Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor; Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio; and former Representative Paul Ryan, according to federal campaign finance records. He gave Mr. Romney’s campaign and its allied political groups $75,000 during the 2012 campaign, records show.

Those affiliations and his lack of a reputation in Virginia Republican politics made many conservatives skeptical of Mr. Youngkin. His background did, too. He worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company before joining the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based private equity firm with deep roots in the political establishment. He worked there for more than 25 years, climbing the ranks and eventually becoming a co-chief executive officer. He announced he was leaving the firm in the summer of 2020 and declared his candidacy for governor a few months later.

As the country’s culture wars reached a boiling point earlier this year, angry parents in Loudoun County denounced school administrators for implementing a curriculum that they said taught white students they were racist. Mr. Youngkin seized on the issue, surprising conservatives who assumed he was more in the mold of Republicans who have fallen out of favor with the activist base.

“Where you have to give Glenn Youngkin credit is he leaned into it,” said Terry Schilling, president of the Virginia-based American Principles Project, which has been running pro-Youngkin ads. “I didn’t see a willingness from him to take these issues on. I just assumed he was a Mitt Romney-type candidate.”

One of the group’s ads centers on the sexual assault of a girl in a high school bathroom, a case that conservatives have used to criticize transgender bathroom laws, although it was not clear the attacker in that case was transgender. In a speech last week, Mr. Youngkin linked the case to the campaign themes he has aimed at anxious suburban parents.



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