Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin faced off in their first debate for Virginia’s gubernatorial race on Thursday night, clashing over COVID-19 vaccine mandates, abortion, and other highly contentious issues facing the commonwealth.
Youngkin argued that while he is a major proponent of getting vaccinated for the respiratory virus, he believes such a decision should be left up to the individual. “I have been a strong, strong advocate for everyone to get the vaccine,” he said. “I do believe that individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own.”
When twice asked by the moderator if he would challenge President Joe Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandate in court, however, Youngkin repeatedly avoided giving a decisive answer to the question, instead simply saying “I don’t believe that President Biden has the authority to dictate to everyone that we have to take the vaccine.” Additionally, the GOP candidate declined to comment on whether or not he would encourage Virginia businesses to reject Biden’s overreaching edict.
Taking the opposite approach, McAuliffe emphatically embraced vaccine requirements, even going as far as to say that he supports schools requiring all children over 12 to receive the COVID shot.
“I’ve called for employers to mandate it for their employees. I’ve called for everyone who works in a hospital to be vaccinated … Everybody who works in K-12. Everybody who attends higher ed,” he said. “I am for requiring mandate vaccinations.”
The former governor and now-candidate had previously said that government and businesses should “make life difficult” for Virginians who opt out of receiving the jab.
The debate later shifted to abortion, with McAuliffe pledging to defend the practice and warning that Youngkin would enact pro-life legislation similar to Texas’s recent heartbeat law if elected governor.
“To every woman watching tonight: I will protect your rights,” he said. “I was a brick wall while I was governor. I vetoed all the bills that he would have proposed that ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood. I support the laws that we have on the books today … I am terrified today that they will roll back Roe v. Wade, so the only change I’d like to see is enshrining Roe v. Wade in the Virginia Constitution.”
In 2019, McAuliffe said he would not have vetoed an abortion bill in the Virginia House of Delegates that would have “allowed women to seek abortions up to the moment of birth.”
While professing to be pro-life, Youngkin remarked that he would not sign a Texas-style heartbeat bill, claiming that the legislation, which would largely prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, is “unworkable” and “confusing.” He did, however, say that a “pain threshold bill” would be “appropriate.”
Moreover, both candidates pledged to defend quality immunity for police officers, even though McAuliffe previously declared his support for ending such protections for law enforcement during a Democrat primary debate earlier this year. Qualified immunity is the legal doctrine that protects government officials, such as law enforcement, from liability unless they violate clearly established statutory or constitutional law.
Recent polling has shown the race as a dead heat, with a new WPA Intelligence survey showing the contest as a statistical tie at 48 percent each. When a third-party candidate is factored into the survey, Youngkin leads McAuliffe by 2 points (48 to 46 percent). The results fall within the poll’s 3.6 percent margin of error.
McAuliffe and Youngkin will face off at the ballot box when Virginia voters head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Shawn Fleetwood is an intern at The Federalist and a student at the University of Mary Washington, where he plans to major in Political Science and minor in Journalism. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood