Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) speaks Aug. 27 during the Red Wave Party following the MIGOP Nominating Convention in Lansing, Mich. (Nic Antaya/Bloomberg News)
3 min

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin again is proving he is not a one-dimensional Republican who can be easily pigeonholed.

Taking most of his Cabinet with him to perennially woebegone Petersburg for a made-for-media event to unpack a massive array of state assistance to help the city out of its fiscal straits, improve its failing schools and public infrastructure and address Virginia’s worst per capita murder rate was a political masterstroke.

Though many Republicans stoke only their largely White, alienated, working-class base loyal to former president Donald Trump, Youngkin took his message into a city that is 77 percent Black and as thoroughly Democratic as any Virginia locality.

Youngkin has no delusions of flipping the partisan bent of a city where he got fewer than 1 vote in 6 in last fall’s election and where President Biden claimed 9 votes out of 10 cast two years ago. He knows he doesn’t have to.

What he’s doing is akin to what he did a year ago when he campaigned on local issues with deep resonance in the state’s Democratic-voting regions in cities and suburbs as well as conservative rural areas: public safety and public education.

Youngkin didn’t carry those Democratic strongholds, but he reduced the Democrats’ margins enough to allow a large GOP turnout in rural Virginia to prevail. It also helped him neutralize Democrats’ ceaseless efforts to tie him to Trump.

Youngkin’s strategy is a template for Republicans running in this year’s congressional midterm elections. Its primary objective: broaden the GOP coalition, even if only marginally, to include reachable constituencies the party has reflexively ignored and, in so doing, temper GOP losses in heavily Democratic areas.

The Youngkin administration skillfully kept the Petersburg initiative under wraps until the last minute and, as The Post reported, caught Democrats flat-footed. Petersburg’s top officeholders, all Democrats, lavished praise on the GOP governor.

Mayor Samuel Parham said, “Governor Youngkin is the first to step down here and say that he is going to put all of his resources in a city to move the dial to create prosperity here in the city of Petersburg.” That comment stings Democrats who held the governor’s mansion for the previous eight years.

The school board chairman, Kenneth Pritchett, lauded the Youngkin administration’s commitment to create a laboratory school in Petersburg through a partnership that would pair Virginia State University, a historically Black university, and Richard Bland College, a branch of the College of William & Mary. Then, in addition to thanking Youngkin, Pritchett twisted the knife in the Democrats, saying, “We needed change, like, yesterday.”

Youngkin’s initiative comes after several actions early in his administration that solidified him with the pro-Trump base, particularly orders to dismantle state policies and programs intended to foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion in public schools. The GOP right lauded the governor for a raft of Inauguration Day executive orders popular with conservatives. His standing with the political right wing is solid.

Petersburg is a move that serves Youngkin well, whatever he decides about whether to launch a GOP presidential nomination campaign in 2024.

In Virginia, it softens his rough partisan edges because — in the words of Democrats — it constitutes a significant, fulsome and long overdue state investment in improving governance and public services where they’ve been grossly lacking for decades.

In early 2024 nomination battlegrounds such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Petersburg initiative could help differentiate Youngkin from other Republicans who play only to their hardcore base in what is likely to be a crowded GOP primary field. It gives him the chance to again walk a tightrope between unquestioning fealty to Trump and a refreshing safe distance from the former president. Most important, it helps Youngkin look electable come November.