One year ago, Glenn Youngkin was well known in the world of high finance, but almost a complete cipher in politics.
After a remarkable upset in the race for governor of Virginia, Mr. Youngkin is the newest star of the Republican Party, whose campaign will be reverse-engineered for its lessons by both parties, and whose political future may hardly be limited to four years in the cream-colored Executive Mansion in Richmond.
A natural campaigner running his first race, Mr. Youngkin found a way to enlist both the Republican base still in thrall to Donald J. Trump and less ideological Republicans who rejected the party in the Trump era. Furious Democratic attacks that he was a Trumpian wolf in suburban-dad fleece never quite stuck because, in both biography and manner, Mr. Youngkin did not fit the former president’s bullying, self-aggrandizing profile. His ability to direct multiple messages — red meat to the G.O.P. base via interviews with right-wing media, and a less divisive pitch to swing voters, including on parental input for schools — will serve as a blueprint for his party in the midterms.
With a personal fortune estimated by Forbes at $440 million, Mr. Youngkin contributed $20 million to his own bid. That lavish sum paid for top-tier G.O.P. consultants and an avalanche of TV ads, and it prompted speculation that Mr. Youngkin’s sights were set beyond Virginia, where governors must step down after a single term.
His victory running as a conservative in a seemingly Democratic redoubt — no Republican had won statewide in Virginia in a dozen years — could make Mr. Youngkin, 54, a contender within his party nationally if its voters decide they are ready to move on from Mr. Trump and Trumpism.
During the campaign, Mr. Youngkin blanketed the airwaves with ads attacking his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. But at the outset, the ads introduced the political unknown as someone from modest means, whose father lost a job, forcing a teenage Glenn to find work washing dishes. The family moved to Virginia Beach, where he attended a private day school, Norfolk Academy.
A basketball scholarship earned him a ride to Rice University in Houston, a Division I program where he mostly warmed the bench and was listed as 6 feet 7 inches (he now puts his height at 6-foot-5). He later attended Harvard Business School. His career followed the well-trod path of former varsity athletes from elite private colleges who head into finance.
He worked for McKinsey & Company, the corporate consulting giant, and in 1995, he joined the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that grew into a behemoth. Based in Washington, the firm has deep establishment ties, including to the military and energy industries, and it has served as a soft landing for former government officials to build fortunes.
While raising four children with his wife, Suzanne, Mr. Youngkin climbed the ladder at Carlyle: from leading its buyout deals in Britain, to becoming the head of a global industrial group in Washington, to helping lead the firm’s initial public offering in 2012, to being named co-chief executive in 2018.
Mr. Youngkin amassed a 31.5-acre property around his family home in Great Falls, in the Washington suburbs, which he and his wife developed into a horse farm and a riding arena. (They received a 95 percent tax reduction in 2020 after petitioning to have the property designated an agricultural preserve.)
A private foundation that the Youngkins established owns property in McLean that is the site of Holy Trinity Church, an independent evangelical congregation that Mr. Youngkin first founded in his basement, and a 358-acre farm in Middleburg — horse country — that serves as a “Christian retreat ministry.”
In interviews, Mr. Youngkin explained it was Suzanne who had made him a regular churchgoer, insisting that faith be central to their marriage.
According to Bloomberg, Mr. Youngkin was known as the “the nice guy and culture carrier” at Carlyle, whose founding billionaires had groomed him to be a face of the company. But after losing a power struggle with his co-chief executive, he left the firm in September 2020.
For more than a decade, Mr. Youngkin had been a generous donor to establishment Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Speaker Paul Ryan, as well as Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who benefited from $75,000 of Mr. Youngkin’s cash.
When he left Carlyle, he told colleagues that he intended to explore politics himself. “I have long felt a calling to service, and Covid’s massive disruptions and intense social and economic challenges have only strengthened that conviction,” he wrote.
In the crowded Republican primary field, with most candidates vying for a Trump base that largely believed the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen because of fraud, Mr. Youngkin made “election integrity” his top issue.
He acknowledged only after securing the nomination in May that President Biden had won. Mr. Trump’s endorsement, which came soon after, was “an honor,” Mr. Youngkin said. Mr. Trump at one point called him “a great gentleman” and offered to campaign together. But Mr. Youngkin dodged rallies at which Mr. Trump phoned in his support, while the former president continued to fan election conspiracy theories.
Glossing lightly over his own policy priorities during the early part of the race, Mr. Youngkin soft-pedaled traditional conservative issues like gun rights and abortion, at one point confiding to a liberal activist with a hidden mic that he had to downplay abortion to court independent voters. The National Rifle Association skipped an endorsement in July after Mr. Youngkin failed to fill out a questionnaire about his views.
Instead, Mr. Youngkin found his own galvanizing issue in some parents’ frustration with public schools, beginning with Covid-driven closures, and extending to conservatives’ belief that classwork has become overly conscious of racial differences.
While he has promised to end a sales tax on groceries and to cut regulations to spur new businesses, Mr. Youngkin’s best known pledge is to ban critical race theory in schools on Day 1, even though that graduate-school thesis about the role of racism in American institutions has little impact on K-12 classrooms, educators say. To Democrats, the issue has been no more than an appeal to white voters’ grievances.
Whether Mr. Youngkin’s outreach to conservatives on cultural issues came from the heart, embodying the anger that drove the grass roots, or whether it was a convenient garment he put on along with his trademark red vest, hardly mattered in the end to Republicans and many independent voters.