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Glenn Youngkin hosts donor retreat amid presidential speculation

The ‘Red Vest Retreat’ comes as major Republican donors search for alternatives to former president Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2024

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) delivers remarks at Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Va., on Sept. 1. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has been raising his national profile ahead of a possible presidential campaign, has invited top Republican donors from around the country for a two-day event this week, according to people familiar with the proceedings.

The “Red Vest Retreat” at Keswick Hall, a luxury resort outside Charlottesville, will take place Thursday and Friday, with panel discussions on topics such as education, an address by former House speaker Newt Gingrich and a private dinner at a nearby residence, the people said. The title refers to the fleece vests that Youngkin regularly wears.

“He is clearly a national star with a great future,” Gingrich said, when asked about his appearance at the event. “It could be president, vice president, Cabinet or senator. He is fairly young, and over the next several years, many opportunities will show up.”

But others said the primary purpose of the event, which does not require a donation to attend, is to evaluate Youngkin’s capacity to mount a presidential campaign, as major Republican donors around the country continue to search for alternatives to former president Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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About 30 to 40 couples are expected to attend, including people who were not deeply involved in Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign.

“This is 100 percent, ‘Is Glenn of presidential timber? Does he have it?’ ” said one of the Republicans involved in the effort, who like some others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private event. “This isn’t an announcement deal. There is a lot of tire-kicking going on.”

Youngkin has been traveling the country in recent weeks, speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival and at a recent private donor gathering hosted by the American Opportunity Alliance, a group organized by billionaire hedge fund investor Paul Singer.

He is scheduled to campaign for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Tuesday and will stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in Arizona. He has also campaigned for Republican governors in Nebraska, Michigan, Maine, Nevada and Kansas.

He has said so far he has not made any decision on a 2024 campaign, while stopping short of denying interest in the Oval Office.

“I think that I have to be the best governor I can possibly be,” Youngkin said at the Tribune festival last week, when asked about his ambitions. “I think I have to demonstrate that what we’re doing is a winning way. It’s a winning way, not just a winning way we win campaigns, but it’s a winning way to serve a state with 8.6 million people.”

Youngkin added: “2024 is a long way off.”

More than a dozen potential Republican candidates for president have been taking steps in recent weeks to prepare for a possible presidential campaign, as Trump continues to signal both publicly and privately that he plans to run again. Former vice president Mike Pence has held donor events under the umbrella of his new group, Advancing American Freedom. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has planned a November event in Annapolis for his group, An America United.

Youngkin’s supporters have made the case that he stands out among the potential Republican candidates in that he can harness enthusiasm both from Trump’s base of voters and a broader community of Republicans.

“He is uniquely in high demand in blue states, red states and swing states,” a person close to Youngkin said. “This event serves as an annual report to future donors and previous investors.”

Youngkin is facing an uproar over new state guidelines restricting the rights of transgender students, prompting widespread walkouts Tuesday across the commonwealth.

Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms in office, giving Youngkin a short timeline to decide his next steps. But one Republican involved in the event said a possible campaign for Senate in 2026 would not be enough to draw the donors to Charlottesville this year.

“If you are running for Senate, you go see them,” the person said. “They don’t come to see you.”

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.