McAuliffe, Youngkin meet for first debate on eve of beginning of early voting

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 10:46 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - For the first time on Thursday night, the two top candidates to become Virginia’s next governor shared a debate stage.

The Democrat in the race, Terry McAuliffe, is seeking a second term in the governor’s mansion. His Republican counterpart, Glenn Youngkin, is positioning himself as an outsider with new ideas.

“Virginians, you have a choice,” Youngkin said in his closing statement. “Do you want tired, old, recycled policies from a tired politician or do you want to embrace someone new?”

In his closing statement, McAuliffe tried to convey his experience as a strength.

“COVID’s tough, most of the analysis says it’ll be with us for 18 months,” McAuliffe said. “We need someone with some experience who has done this job before to lead us through it.”

Managing, and eventually defeating, COVID-19 was a cause for rare agreement: both McAuliffe and Youngkin are encouraging Virginians to get vaccinated.

But only McAuliffe is supportive of mandates.

When moderator Susan Page asked if McAuliffe would “support adding the COVID vaccine as a requirement” to students at least 12 years old, McAuliffe said: “absolutely, you bet I would. I want everybody vaccinated.”

Youngkin was asked, but did not say, if he would challenge President Joe Biden’s sweeping mandates, but he did say that he has been “a strong, strong advocate for everyone to get the vaccine.”

“I do believe that individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own,” Youngkin continued, “but that’s why I launched a public service announcement to encourage people to get the vaccine.”

McAuliffe said that’s not enough.

“He likes to do PSAs,” he said. “PSAs aren’t going to do anything. I want to get everyone vaccinated here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The two sparred again over abortion. Youngkin said he would not sign a bill similar to the controversial one signed into law in Texas, calling it “unworkable and confusing.”

“I am pro-life, I believe in exceptions for rape and incest, and when the mother’s life is at risk,” Youngkin said. “My opponent ignores the truth. He is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate in America today.”

McAuliffe said he supports abortion up through the second trimester, and that he wants to enshrine Roe v Wade into the state’s constitution.

“I am terrified today that [the U.S. Supreme Court] will roll back Roe v Wade,” McAuliffe said.

Then, the candidates were asked if they would recognize the winner as governor, even if they themselves lost. There was agreement (both said “absolutely”), but even that was contentious.

“Absolutely, but we’re going to win,” McAuliffe said.

“Absolutely, but I don’t expect that to be the case,” Youngkin said.

Here are the candidates on two other issues that were brought up:

On whether they would have signed the Clean Economy Act as Governor:

Youngkin: “No sir, I wouldn’t have. I believe in all energy sources. We can use wind and solar, but we need to preserve our clean natural gas.”

McAuliffe: “Yes, of course, I would sign it. If you look at my plan, I’m calling for clean energy by 2035. And when I think of clean energy, I think of jobs.”

On whether they would preserve qualified immunity for law enforcement officers:

Youngkin: “Qualified immunity protects law enforcement heroes from frivolous civil lawsuits. I haven’t met a single law enforcement hero who does not want to root out bad police. But we’re going to protect qualified immunity.”

McAuliffe: “No I would not end it. It’s called qualified immunity for a reason. Any officer who’s acting in good faith should, and will, have the full protections of the Commonwealth of Virginia but if you have a law enforcement officer breaking the law, that’s where qualified immunity ends.”

Early voting in Virginia begins on Friday, September 16.

A third candidate for governor, Liberation Party’s Princess Blanding, is on the ballot. She was not on the debate stage.

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