RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — To promote Virginia’s recently signed budget and its range of tax cuts, Gov. Glenn Youngkin hosted two high-energy campaign-style celebrations, complete with bright lighting, a crowd of supporters and a Booming playlist that recalled back to its winning run last year.

Other bill signings and press conferences in Richmond exhibited similar flair, such as a carefully staged gas tax proposal announced at a gas station where Youngkin washed windshields for…

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — To promote Virginia’s recently signed budget and its range of tax cuts, Gov. Glenn Youngkin hosted two high-energy campaign-style celebrations, complete with bright lighting, a crowd of supporters and a Booming playlist that recalled back to its winning run last year.

Other bill signings and press conferences in Richmond exhibited similar flair, such as a carefully staged gas tax proposal announced at a gas station where Youngkin washed drivers’ windshields. And in the otherwise simple governor’s briefing room, a collection of Virginia and American flags has been added.

Youngkin is also increasingly extending its reach beyond the Capitol Square in Richmond. He was in Nebraska this month to deliver the keynote address for the state’s GOP convention. It provides for additional stops on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidates after Labor Day, as well as appearances for candidates in some of Virginia’s most competitive congressional races.

During his first six months as governor, Youngkin moved quickly to assert himself as a new voice within the party. It’s a dramatic and tightly choreographed transformation for a political newcomer who appears to be carefully cultivating his public image in a way that speaks to his possible ambitions for higher office.

“Overall, they have a more coordinated, more scripted operation,” said longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth. “They have an image that they want to put forward, and they’re not trying to do anything to detract from that.”

Speculation that Youngkin, a former private equity executive, could seek a higher position – possibly even a 2024 presidential bid – took off as he beat Terry McAuliffe in a race in which the former governor Democrat entered as the perceived frontrunner. Virginia does not allow an incumbent to run for a second consecutive four-year term.

Youngkin captured national attention for scoring a victory in a long blue-leaning state, running on a solidly conservative platform while keeping former President Donald Trump at bay and impressing voters who found the candidate friendly. and sincere.

Some speculate that Youngkin could make a shortlist as a running mate or possibly challenge one of the Democratic US senators from Virginia. He’s been coy about his future, saying in recent interviews he’s focused on Virginia but refuses to rule anything out.

The 55-year-old was sworn in on January 15 and recently completed work in his first legislative session, which saw some of his top priorities rejected by the Democratic-controlled state Senate. But he emerged with plenty to promote after focusing on specific campaign promises and working to push Virginia to the right.

A few Democrats joined Republicans in voting to ban school districts from imposing mask mandates, regulate sexually explicit school materials and expand a school innovation initiative that Youngkin pushed. The state’s compromise spending plan includes tax cuts — many of which campaigned for Youngkin — that are expected to save a family of four more than $1,100 a year.

His administration also relaxed the state’s COVID-19 quarantine and mask guidelines beyond the federal government’s recommendations.

Looking ahead, he said he would like to see a 15- or 20-week abortion ban enacted next year. Virginia currently allows first- and second-trimester abortions, and third-trimester abortions only if three doctors certify that the mother’s mental or physical health is at serious risk.

All the while, Youngkin proves to be a strong fundraiser, boosted by a newly formed political action committee. The PAC, Spirit of Virginia, raised more than $1.5 million in donations of over $10,000 or more during the second quarter of the year. That was far more than other governors brought in during the same period, even after adjusting for inflation, according to the nonpartisan money in politics tracker, the Virginia Public Access Project. Total revenue in the quarter topped $2.2 million, and PAC reported spending just over $1 million.

Youngkin also broke fundraising records for his inauguration festivities.

The governor, who appears with some regularity on Fox News, has recently attracted or participated in a blitz of glowing media coverage, from a TIME magazine profile to his second Sunday morning newscast. A Washington Post opinion column said it was “good news” that he was “seriously” considering a presidential bid.

In Richmond, Youngkin engaged selectively with the media, withheld requests for public records where his office has broad discretion, and released fairly limited details about his schedule, which these last weeks has contained few public events. He did not accept an interview for this story.

Spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said the governor is committed to engaging with reporters in Richmond and noted that Youngkin regularly answers questions after his public events.

Youngkin dodged recent questions about Trump, who is mulling a new presidential campaign as soon as this summer.

The governor was asked on “Face the Nation” on CBS if Trump should stop making false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Well, let me start with my trip to Nebraska, which was really, really fun,” Youngkin replied. He then avoided answering the question directly three more times.

Some Democrats say Youngkin has been more focused on raising his profile than government.

“His political ambition is costing Virginia its world-class economic status — and that’s a real shame,” Susan Swecker, chair of the state’s Democratic Party, said in a statement after Virginia went from first to third place in “Top States for CNBC”. Business Ranking.

But longtime Sen. Chap Petersen, a moderate Democrat from northern Virginia who joined Republicans in effectively ending school mask mandates, expressed modicum approval of the governor’s leadership. Petersen said Youngkin helped bring the state back to a sense of normalcy as it returned from the heights of the pandemic.

Petersen said he was disappointed with several of the administration’s actions which he called “petty,” including the governor’s veto of bills by a colleague who led the fight against the nomination of a Cabinet candidate. Petersen said Youngkin could accomplish more in Virginia if he reduced partisanship.

“I sure hope he’s focused on his current job,” Petersen said.

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