UVA Center for Politics director discusses Democratic gubernatorial candidate debate

Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:46 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -All five Democratic candidates for governor met in the first debate Tuesday night at Virginia State University.

The hour-long debate started off on a quiet note before candidates blasted McAuliffe’s record on gun rights, and there’s one moment that’s getting a lot of attention. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax comparing sexual assault allegations against him to the deaths of Emmett Till and George Floyd.

“I was falsely accused in 2019 from the Washington Post now saying these false accusations, raising that question and whether it was a rush to judgement. Everyone on this stage called for my immediate resignation, including Terry McAuliffe three minutes after a press release came out. He treated me like George Floyd. He treated me like Emmett Till, no due process, immediately assumed my guilt,” Fairfax said.

University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato called it outrageous. “Just about anybody who wasn’t already committed to the lieutenant governor probably said ‘well at least that’s one of the five I can strike off the list,’” he said.

That was just one attack lobbied at perceived front runner Terry McAuliffe who also faced attacks on his gun record.

“The reason we haven’t curbed gun violence isn’t because we don’t know how to do it. It is because we have politicians failing to act. When Terry McAuliffe had the opportunity as governor to be serious about gun violence, he did a backroom deal with the NRA undermining concealed weapons laws in Virginia making us all less safe,” Jennifer Carroll Foy, attorney and former state delegate, said.

“Our Attorney General was on the right track to put us there and Governor McAuliffe made a deal that gave that away,” Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-9th) said.

“It was a bipartisan bill to bring folks together. It was the toughest domestic violence bill in the United States of America,” McAuliffe said in response.

Sabato said the debate did not change much and McAuliffe remains the front runner. However, he says there is one factor that could upend his lead.

“Unless the other candidates consolidate by June 8, meaning some have to say ‘I’m out of it, I endorse X and everybody has to endorse X,’ it’s hard to see how the dynamics change,” he said.

The next debate is set for Thursday, May 6 and the Democratic Primary will be held Tuesday, June 8.

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