Virginia Democrats are seeking to tie Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin to former President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE’s unfounded claims involving the 2020 presidential election in an effort to hurt Youngkin in the state’s Democratic strongholds.
The state’s Democrats are specifically zeroing in on Youngkin’s participation in an “Election Integrity Regional Rally” that is being hosted next month by Republicans in Virginia’s 5th District. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday was the first major Democrat in the state to come out against the planned event, calling on his Republican opponent to drop out of attending its banquet. Soon after, other Virginia Democrats including Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Del. Hala Ayala, who is running for lieutenant governor, quickly followed suit.
The calls came amid the first day of testimony for the Jan. 6 select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol earlier this year that was spurred by Trump’s unfounded claims that he won the 2020 election.
“If there is any doubt in anybody’s mind about what’s at stake in undermining our democracy you only have to watch the hearings that are going on right now in Congress,” Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker told reporters on Tuesday. “Listen to what those brave officers said this morning. It brought tears to my eyes that our country has come to this.”
On Wednesday, the McAuliffe campaign blasted out a new ad tying Youngkin to Trump and his election claims.
“For Youngkin, the most important issue isn’t jobs, it’s repeating Donald Trump’s lies,” the ad’s narrator says.
Youngkin’s campaign fired back, accusing the McAuliffe campaign of “spreading lies and smears.”
“As an American, Glenn Youngkin is absolutely right that in order for Virginia to do well economically, the foundations of our country must be strong, including confidence in the integrity of our elections and Americans’ willingness to accept the results of our democratic process,” Youngkin spokesperson Matt Wolking said in a statement to The Hill, adding that the candidate’s No. 1 priority was growing the economy.
The Republican’s campaign has also pointed to 2004 comments from McAuliffe about the highly contested 2000 presidential election in which he said Democrats won the election and Republicans stole it.
Youngkin launched an “election integrity task force” in February prior to winning the nomination. The Republican candidate said the task force is designed to establish legal voting standards in election processes.
Youngkin declined definitively to say that Joe BidenJoe BidenUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Biden to tap law professor who wants to 'end banking as we know it' as OCC chief: reports MORE was the legitimately elected president during the course of the Republican convention earlier this year but has since changed his tone, repeatedly acknowledging Biden’s win.
The recent outcry from Democrats came after the invite for the “Election Integrity Regional Rally” surfaced on Monday. According to the invitation, the grassroots event includes seminars on topics such as voter data, registration, election observers and officials and fundraising. The event was not planned or organized by the Youngkin campaign.
Republicans have hit back against Democratic backlash over the event, accusing Democrats of working to disrupt organizational efforts.
“Virginia election law allows for both Republicans and Democrats to help administer elections, and a meeting — like the one next week — between any party’s officials and members of the party to organize efforts to carry out Virginia law is entirely appropriate,” a Virginia GOP official told The Hill. “It appears that Democratic officials are seeking to disrupt and interfere in organizational efforts that are designed to help carry out Virginia law, but the media is buying their intentional mischaracterization ‘hook, line, and sinker.’ Will the Democratic Party of Virginia be canceling their own meetings around election administration?”
The event, which is taking place on Aug. 6 and 7, features a number of prominent Virginia Republicans, including Rep. Ben ClineBenjamin (Ben) Lee ClinePulling back the curtain on DC's rulemakers? Virginia Democrats seek to tie Youngkin to Trump's election claims McAuliffe calls on Youngkin to drop out of 'election integrity' rally MORE and Rep. Bob Good, who represents the 5th District.
Good was present at a press conference outside the Department of Justice on Tuesday during the Jan. 6 committee hearing in an effort to press for an update on individuals arrested following the riot at the Capitol.
Tying Youngkin to the election fraud claims could hurt his support in the Democratic strongholds of Northern Virginia and Richmond.
“This is a problem of their own making,” McAuliffe’s former press secretary Josh Schwerin told The Hill. “It’s going to do a lot of damage with voters in most of the state and across the political spectrum who know that the election was valid, saw the insurrection on their own doorstep. Virginia is right next door.”
Others say that having some focus on election integrity is not necessarily all bad for Youngkin, arguing that it will rally Virginia’s conservative base.
“I think that’s really a danger long-term to the Republican Party, but short-term I think it’s going to do well to energize the base, especially in the southern districts,” said Rep. Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanHouse Democrats select Riggleman as Jan. 6 committee adviser Virginia Democrats seek to tie Youngkin to Trump's election claims The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week MORE (R-Va.), who used to represent the state’s 5th District.
Riggleman, a noted Trump critic, argued that the issue of election integrity plays into the former president’s larger claim that the election was stolen from him in 2020. Recent polling shows Republican voters across the country still buy the narrative. According to a Monmouth University survey released last month, 63 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said that Biden was not legitimately elected president.
“Election integrity is just the icing on top of the stop-the-steal cake,” Riggleman said. “You’re just putting your finger in the icing. You’re not eating the whole cake and you’re hoping everyone thinks you’re at the birthday party.”
Other Republicans in Virginia and across the country argue election integrity is related to election security. Several states including Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Florida have introduced stricter voter laws following the 2020 election.
Virginia, on the other hand, has gone in a different direction. In March, Northam signed the Voter Rights Act of Virginia, which was modeled in part after the John LewisJohn LewisDebt ceiling fight pits corporate America against Republicans House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power Michelle Obama looks to mobilize voters for midterms MORE Voting Rights Act. Democrats have touted the legislation, which came four years after McAuliffe, who was governor at the time, vetoed a number of pieces of legislation that he says would have made voting more difficult.
Youngkin’s campaign has hit McAuliffe’s stance on voter ID.
“Terry McAuliffe opposes requiring a photo ID to vote, which undermines the integrity of our elections and makes it easier to cheat,” Wolking said in a statement this week. “Glenn Youngkin will restore Virginia’s photo ID law and make sure it is easy for every eligible person to vote and harder to cheat.”
Riggleman acknowledged that Democrats will likely continue to tie Youngkin to the Jan. 6 riot but warned the attacks could feed the enthusiasm of voters who are already skeptical of the 2020 election results.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Riggleman said. “The individuals that the Republican ticket are talking to at an event like this or an event that is election integrity specific, they don’t really care what the Democrats say.”
“It’s self-affirming,” he added.