The morning after the first gubernatorial debate

A special edition on the gubernatorial debate.

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McAuliffe and Youngkin meet for the first debate of the gubernatorial race

After months of back and forth comments over debate participation, gubernatorial candidates Glenn Youngkin (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) met for a face-to-face debate Thursday night in the town of Grundy at the Appalachian School of Law. Both candidates continued the direct attacks that their campaigns have been waging throughout the summer. 

During the debate, Youngkin would not directly answer an abortion question, McAuliffe avoided a question on repealing Right to Work laws, and both candidates said they would not support repealing qualified immunity for law enforcement. 

They sparred with each other constantly throughout the debate, often speaking over their time limit or dropping little remarks in tight gaps of time. “Relax Glenn I don’t want you to pass out,” McAuliffe said to Youngkin after he kept talking over his limit.

 “I think this might be the new model of debating moving forward,” said Richard Meagher, a professor of political science at Randolph Macon College. “I think that the Trump debates kind of reset what people’s expectations are.” 

McAuliffe seemed comfortable on the stage, taking advantage of his experience on stage to try and knock Youngkin off message. But Youngkin, the political novice, held his own. “I don’t know that he overwhelmed anybody or was really impressive,” Meagher said before noting that he, “provided credible answers. He certainly didn’t embarrass himself.”

McAuliffe stayed on message for the most part and hammered home the same points throughout the night that his campaign has been using for months. “He is who he is at this point,” Meagher said of McAuliffe’s performance, noting that he seems a little bit more polished this go-around compared to his first campaign in 2013.  

McAuliffe repeatedly tied Youngkin to Trump and said that Youngkin would support the ban of abortion in Virginia. Youngkin pushed back by saying he would not support the same law recently enacted in Texas because he believes in exceptions for incest and rape. He avoided answering what abortion restrictions he would support. 

After Youngkin did not directly answer what abortion restrictions he would support in Virginia, McAuliffe asked the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, if she was “satisfied with that answer.”

“I think that is the answer I am going to get,” Page responded.

McAuliffe said he would support legislation that would have reduced the number of doctors needed to sign off on a late-term abortion if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. McAuliffe said reducing the number from three required doctors to just one would be beneficial in rural areas that only have one doctor.

Youngkin said he does not believe there was “significant” election fraud in Virginia’s recent elections and would “absolutely” accept the results in November if McAuliffe wins. He also touted his vaccine PSA video but stopped short of supporting mandates for vaccines. Something McAuliffe, who said he supports mandates for anyone 12 years and older, continuously hits him for on the campaign. 

“This is the dance that Youngkin has had to do since he got the nomination,” Meagher said. “How do you appeal to red-meat conservative rural Virginians who hate mandates… and appeal to moderates,” he continued. “It is going to be increasingly difficult for him,” Meagher said, noting that it provides ammunition for the Democrats to attack him. 

McAuliffe could have bothered his own base after changing his stance on qualified immunity. During the primary, he expressed support for repealing the law that protects police officers from lawsuits. 

“McAuliffe does have to watch out for two things,” Meagher said. The progressive candidate in the race, Princess Blanding, and Democratic turnout dropping. “How many Democrats stay home?” Meagher asked. “That is always the big problem in these off-year elections.” 

Youngkin also said he opposed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, while McAuliffe said he wanted to be more aggressive and speed the plan up by 10 years. The legislation in its current form would require all electricity to come from renewable sources.

McAuliffe said he supports vaccine requirements for anyone 12 years and old. Youngkin touted the video PSA he released in Northern Virginia and strongly urged people to get the vaccine, but he has pushed back against any vaccine requirement saying it should be an individual’s choice. 

Youngkin also said he does not believe that President Joe Biden does not have the authority for the recent COVID-19 vaccine mandates he issued, but did not directly say if he would try and sue the federal government to intervene as governor.

At the end of the night, Meagher didn’t declare either candidate a winner. “I would say it was probably a tie,” he said. “I don’t think this resets the race in any way,” he continued while saying that Youngkin may have been able to gain more from this race by introducing himself to more potential voters that did not know him. “They both were fine but Youngkin needed more.” 

Polling as recent as Thursday shows McAuliffe with a slight lead in the race. “Statistically speaking, the poll isn’t telling you that McAuliffe is going to win or Youngkin is going to lose. It is really saying it is a dead heat,” said Emerson College Polling Director Spencer Kimball. The Emerson poll showed McAuliffe with a four-point lead. 

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McAuliffe campaign statement after the debate

McAuliffe’s Campaign Manager Chris Bolling released the following statement following the first general election debate:

“In tonight's debate, Terry McAuliffe made it clear to Virginians that he is the only candidate who will defeat this virus, build a stronger economy and give every Virginia child a world-class education. Tonight, voters were once again reminded of what's at stake in this election as Glenn Youngkin continued to peddle Donald Trump’s dangerous lies, anti-vaccine rhetoric and right-wing agenda in front of Virginia voters.”

“Terry laid out his comprehensive plans to work with Democrats and Republicans to invest in Virginia’s economy, create good-paying jobs and keep Virginia open and welcoming to all. Glenn Youngkin’s economic plan would cost Virginia millions of jobs, decimate funding for education and public safety and would slash hundreds of billions in personal income for Virginians. Unlike his opponent, whose failed career is one of killing American jobs and harming working people, Terry created 200,000 good-paying jobs, grew personal income and brought down unemployment in every corner of the Commonwealth. 

“This November, voters have a choice between moving Virginia forward with Terry McAuliffe or leaving our families behind and taking Virginia backwards with Donald Trump's hand-picked candidate, Glenn Youngkin. Virginians will head to the polls tomorrow to vote for Terry McAuliffe because Terry is the only candidate in this race that will continue to lead the Commonwealth out of this pandemic and keep the economy growing strong. Terry’s victory tonight made it clear – he is the only choice for Virginians this November.”

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Youngkin campaign statement after the debate

Youngkin’s campaign manager Mark Campbell issued the following statement:

“There is no question: Glenn Youngkin was the obvious winner in tonight’s Appalachian Law School debate. 

“Unfortunately, Virginians were also subjected to 60 minutes of Terry McAuliffe’s lies, attempts to cover up his failed record, and recycled policies that were bought and paid for by labor unions and other special interest groups. McAuliffe was at least kind enough to spare voters the lashing that he subjected a brave Virginia law enforcement officer to yesterday.

“For 60 minutes, Glenn dominated the stage and clearly articulated his vision to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family by cutting costs for Virginians, keeping our communities safe, reinvigorating job growth, making government work for the people, and restoring excellence in education.

“Virginia voters heard the details of Glenn’s Day One Game Plan, which lays out the actions he will take on his first day in office to ensure the Commonwealth has the best jobs, the best schools, the safest communities, and a government that works for all of us.

“Terry McAuliffe failed Virginia the first time, and giving him a second chance means our children will suffer, our economy will remain stalled, the cost of living will continue to skyrocket, and Virginians will be less safe.”

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House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert Statement on the Debate

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement after the debate:

"After hearing both candidates tonight, it could not be more clear that Glenn Youngkin is the Governor Virginia needs. Glenn has been listening to hard-pressed families who are worried about violent felons being released into their neighborhoods, the quality of their children's education, the rising cost of living, and whether or not they'll have a job next month.

"Terry McAuliffe, on the other hand, has one objective -- raise taxes on every Virginian, regardless of how much money they make. At a time when our economy is sputtering and inflation is creating significant economic uncertainty for many Virginians, Terry McAuliffe wants to raise our taxes by nearly $5,400 per family. That’s reckless and cruel.

"Because of Virginia House Democrats, Virginians are already staring down over $2 billion in new taxes and $800 more per year in electricity costs. We’re watching as Congress gets set to pass massive new federal taxes, and now Terry McAuliffe wants to add to the hardship with over $8 billion in new spending. With a price tag of over $4 billion per year, Virginia’s current surplus wouldn’t cover Terry’s massive spending increase. Virginians can’t afford Terry McAuliffe and House Democrats.”

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Planned Parenthood of VA statement after gubernatorial debate

The following statement is from Jamie Lockhart, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia: 

The choice in the Virginia gubernatorial race could not be clearer. Terry McAuliffe is the only candidate who Virginians can trust to protect their access to health care and expand access to sexual and reproductive care — including safe and legal abortion. As he said tonight, “I’ve been very clear, and I’ll say this again to every woman watching tonight: I will protect your rights. I believe a woman oughta make a decision about her own reproductive rights. I will support those. I was a brick wall while I was governor. I vetoed all the bills that he [Youngkin] would propose that ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood.” 

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DPVA Chair Swecker Statement after gubernatorial debate

Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker released the following statement: 

“The choice for Virginia governor could not be more clear after tonight’s debate — we need Terry McAuliffe to get Virginians vaccinated, keep our economy moving forward and build a better future for all Virginians. We’ve made a lot of progress here in Virginia, and we simply can’t afford to let Glenn Youngkin drag us backwards with his extreme Republican agenda.

“As we saw tonight, Glenn Youngkin is pandering to his far-right base on vaccines and opposing efforts to keep our children safe and healthy in school. Youngkin has also promised to go ‘on offense’ to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood, threatening to restrict reproductive rights for women all across the Commonwealth. His economic plans would decimate public services, cut millions of jobs, defund the police and send Virginia into the ditch.

“Glenn Youngkin’s extreme agenda would prolong the COVID-19 pandemic, defund Virginia schools and send our economy into the ditch. We must elect Terry McAuliffe.”

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