Vaccines, abortion, Trump dominate final Virginia governor’s debate
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R) participated in a contentious final debate on Tuesday night that was largely dominated by topics like abortion, vaccine mandates and former President Trump.
McAuliffe continued his strategy of tying Youngkin to Trump, saying the Republican is “bought and paid for” by the former president.
But Youngkin fired back against the attack, saying Trump is not on the ballot this year.
“There’s an over and under tonight on how many times you’re going to say Donald Trump, and it was 10, and you just busted through it,” Youngkin said. “Let’s have Terry McAuliffe vs. Glenn Youngkin, and let’s let Virginia voters decide who they want their next governor to be.”
Youngkin, who was endorsed by Trump after winning the Virginia GOP convention in May, said he would support Trump if he were the nominee in 2024.
“Who knows who’s going to be running for president in 2024,” Youngkin said when asked by moderator Chuck Todd. “If he’s the Republican nominee, I’ll support him.”
McAuliffe attacked Youngkin right out of the gate on vaccine mandates, highlighting his own stance that they are needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus and calling it his “top priority.”
“I’m running against a candidate who has actually been spreading anti-vax rhetoric across the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said in his opening remarks.
Youngkin has maintained that getting the vaccine should be a personal decision, but one that he strongly supports.
While defending his position, the Republican accused McAuliffe of working to make life difficult for essential workers through vaccine mandates.
“He wants employers to fire employees who don’t get the vaccine,” Youngkin said. “We need those health care workers. We need people on the job, not to make their life difficult. That’s no way to serve Virginians.”
Both candidates sought to paint each other as extreme on abortion as the nationwide battle over the future legality of the procedure rages on.
McAuliffe continued to highlight his abortion rights stance, saying he was a “brick wall” on defending women’s health care and the procedure. Youngkin also tried to go on offense with the issue, calling McAuliffe the “most extreme abortion candidate.”
Both candidates were also asked about a number of other issues, including education, crime and the economy.
The debate was largely Virginia-focused, but the candidates did weigh in on the ongoing legislative battle taking place on Capitol Hill. McAuliffe sided with moderate Democrats when asked about the price of the $3.5 trillion spending bill, saying he thought it was “too high.” Youngkin said that he believed there is “a good future” in the separate bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“I look forward to those funds coming to Virginia and putting them to work,” the Republican said.
But McAuliffe and Youngkin were not the only candidates in the room for the debate on Tuesday. Liberation Party candidate Princess Blanding interrupted the forum less than 20 minutes into the debate, leading Todd to cut to commercial break and call for security.
Blanding told reporters after she left the debate hall that the censorship of her candidacy was “racist,” “sexist,” “oppressive” and “a form of voter suppression.”
“Their goal is to make sure that Virginians don’t know that I exist so that they feel they have to choose between the lesser of two evils,” Blanding said.
McAuliffe told reporters after the debate that he would have been fine with Blanding being onstage. Youngkin did not meet with reporters at the forum, and instead sent his strategist to answer questions from the press.
The debate comes as polls show a tightening race between Youngkin and McAuliffe, with both parties largely viewing the commonwealth’s off-year election as a bellwether going into the midterms. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently changed the race’s rating from “lean Democratic” to “tossup.”
A University of Mary Washington survey released Wednesday found Youngkin leading McAuliffe 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, while McAuliffe led Youngkin, 43 percent to 38 percent, among all those surveyed.
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