Campaigning in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the candidates for governor of Virginia clashed Thursday over whether government should require people to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor, said he supports plans to require vaccinations and that Republican Glenn Youngkin’s opposition to mandates will only “unleash COVID.”
“I think that’s life threatening,” McAuliffe said of Youngkin’s COVID policy. “And I think that’s disqualifying as governor.” Youngkin, a businessman running in his first political race, said everyone should be vaccinated but individuals should make the decisions about getting shots.
“I do believe that individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own,” Youngkin said.
In their first debate ahead of the Nov. 2 election, McAuliffe and Youngkin also clashed over abortion, economic policy, racial issues, and the legacy of former President Donald Trump. Throughout the hour-long session, McAuliffe touted his economic record when in office and said he would seek to protect abortion rights, raise the minimum wage, create conditions of job growth, and unite the state at a time of stark political divisions.
“You need someone with experience,” McAuliffe said in his closing statement. Youngkin described McAuliffe as a “tired politician” and one of a string of Democratic governors who have over-taxed and over-regulated the economy. The former co-chief executive of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, said he would cut state taxes and be a “jobs governor” for Virginia.
“I’m going to go to work fixing problems,” Youngkin said.
McAuliffe, who won in 2013, has a slight lead in recent polls this time around. Virginia governors are limited to one term in a row. Democrat Ralph Northam is the current statehouse occupant. Politicians across the country are looking at the Virginia governor’s race for signs of what might work in the 2022 gubernatorial and congressional elections.
One issue: Trump, who has endorsed Youngkin in the Virginia race.
McAuliffe continually linked Youngkin to the former president, who lost Virginia in both of his election contests and remains unpopular in large swaths of the state. McAuliffe described Youngkin as a “Trump wannabe,” and said “we know the damage that Donald Trump has done to this country.” The Democrat argued that Youngkin would mimic Trump-like Republican governors in states like Florida and Texas and push plans to ban abortions and restrict voting rights, particularly for people of color.
“Your economic plans would run Virginia into a ditch,” McAuliffe told Youngkin at one point. Youngkin did not discuss Trump in detail. Responding to a question from a panel, Youngkin said he disagrees with Trump’s claims that Virginia Democrats are planning to engage in voter fraud this election. The Republican predicted “a clean, fair election” and that he would win. At another point, Youngkin said he would not sign a version of the new restrictive abortion law in Texas. The Republican contender said he is “pro-life” but would allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or the need to protect the lives of mothers.
“My opponent wants to be the abortion governor,” Yougkin said. “And I want to be the jobs governor.”
The two candidates squared off at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, a tiny town in conservative southwest Virginia.