Virginia gubernatorial candidates face off at candidate forum

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 5:28 PM EDT

McLean, Va. (Gray DC) - Virginia business leaders, policymakers and politicians gathered in McLean to hear directly from the candidates running for statewide office this year.

“I got more energy today than the day I was born!” said Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former Virginia governor.

Terry McAuliffe said if voters elect him to a second term, he would continue expanding health care coverage, improving roads and highways, and protecting rights for LGBT Virginians and abortion access for women.

“We do this because we’re open and welcoming,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe touted his record on job creation and attracting new businesses to the commonwealth when he served as governor of the commonwealth. Due to state law, a governor is not able to serve a consecutive second term. If re-elected, he would become just the second governor to hold the position twice.

Central to McAuliffe’s campaign is economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic. McAuliffe said he strongly supports mandatory vaccinations for school employees, hospital workers and private employers.

”I just rattled off here what’s happened in Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. Their school districts are closing, children, thousands, are under quarantine today. I don’t want that in Virginia,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe’s main challenger is Republican Glenn Youngkin. The Washington News Bureau’s Alana Austin also had the opportunity to speak with him after the event to ask about his stances on COVID-19 and abortion.

Youngkin said he’s pro-life, but he wouldn’t say whether he supports Texas’ new law blocking abortion after a heartbeat is detected. His campaign later clarified, from a public policy standpoint, Youngkin supports exemptions in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is at stake.

He told reporters after the forum that topics like abortion are divisive and his focus instead is on issues like the economy and cutting taxes, promoting public safety and supporting members of the military.

“I so look forward to bringing people together, together and marching forward with an agenda that in fact puts Virginia where she can be and must be as the best state in America to live and work,” said Youngkin.

When it comes to combating COVID-19, he said he strongly supports the vaccines and that he and his family are fully vaccinated. But he says he believes vaccination should be a personal choice.

”We actually have to allow employers to make that decision and guess what if those employers that in fact their employees don’t like, their employees are going to go someplace else,” Youngkin said.

Early voting kicks off this month. Virginia and New Jersey one of two states holding gubernatorial elections this year, with California voters considering a recall of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. Many political experts consider the outcome of these races to be a litmus test in predicting the outlook of the 2022 midterm elections.

A new Trafalgar Group poll puts McAuliffe ahead by just one percentage point, which is within the margin of error. A recent Monmouth poll shows McAuliffe ahead by five.

Photojournalist/Editor Tyler Smith contributed to this report.

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