That’s a challenge that Mr. McAuliffe takes seriously.
After he clinched an easy victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday night, Mr. McAuliffe — who is seeking to replace Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term — sought to rouse his party by warning them that Mr. Youngkin’s ability to self-finance is a threat that must be taken seriously. “There are 75 million reasons why Glenn Youngkin could win,” Mr. McAuliffe told supporters, alluding to how much the Republican could spend on the campaign.
If Mr. Youngkin is able to spend enough money to define himself to voters before Democrats do it, and if President Biden’s popularity wanes by November — as it did with former President Barack Obama in 2009, the last time Republicans won the governorship here — Mr. Youngkin will be positioned to at least make the race close.
In contrast to the last two Virginia governor’s races, the G.O.P.’s conservative and more establishment-aligned factions are united behind Mr. Youngkin.
“This is totally winnable for Republicans,” said Jerry Kilgore, a former state attorney general and a Republican who once ran for governor himself. “But if he loses, there will be a lot of depressed people, because there’s a lot of optimism right now.”
To prevail, Mr. Youngkin will have demonstrate some Simone Biles-like footwork when it comes to answering for his party’s brand and, in particular Mr. Trump, the former and potentially future standard-bearer.
“I don’t think he’s coming this year,” Mr. Youngkin said in response to a question of whether he wanted Mr. Trump to campaign with him.
Standing outside a country-music-themed bar in the Tidewater region in the state’s southeast, where he grew up before amassing his fortune at the Carlyle Group in Washington, Mr. Youngkin was plainly more interested in contrasting his lack of political experience with Mr. McAuliffe’s decades as a party insider.
And after winning a hard-fought Republican nomination contest on Tuesday, Mr. Youngkin also appeared mindful of Mr. Trump’s grip on the party and did not want to slight a party leader who is famously sensitive to slights.
“I don’t think his schedule is — I think he has his schedule and is set to go to other places,” Mr. Youngkin tried again.