Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin took part in a fierce debate Tuesday night in the Virginia governor's race. It's a high stakes matchup for the Commonwealth that's also being closely watched for insight into voter sentiment as we approach the 2022 national midterm elections.
The latest sparring match was a chance for McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, to try to win over Republican voters. Meanwhile, Youngkin fought to regain the support of suburbanites who left the party due to concerns about Trump's presidency.
Early voting in Virginia started September 17th. Out of 12 polls, early indications from Real Clear Politics give McAuliffe a slight 3.5 percent aggregated lead.
The Trump Factor
"He's a total wannabe Donald Trump," McAuliffe said about Youngkin during his response to a question on election integrity.
Youngkin responded with, "There's an over and under tonight on how many times you're going to say Donald Trump. That's ten and you just busted through it. You're running against Glenn Youngkin."
A big battle taking shape off the debate stage surrounds a barrage of hypothetical questions from the media regarding Trump's allegations of a stolen election and the January 6th Capitol riot.
When asked if he would certify the election, Youngkin's campaign released the following statement: "Glenn Youngkin has repeatedly said that Joe Biden was legitimately elected and that there was no significant fraud in Virginia's 2020 election, leading to the only logical conclusion that he would have certified the election."
Youngkin finds himself walking a fine line after receiving Trump's endorsement while also trying to win over former Republicans.
Blow after blow, the two drew political lines on dozens of issues, including hot topics in education, mandatory vaccinations, and abortion.
'Abortion Should Be the Preeminent Issue'
McAuliffe's response to being the most extreme abortion candidate in the country directed his pro-abortion politics to the business realm.
"Businesses are not going to a state where they're putting walls up," McAuliffe said. "He's against gay marriage and he's against abortion."
Prudence Robertson with the pro-life group, Susan B. Anthony List, sees abortion as key, especially with so many states taking action and the U.S. Supreme Court preparing to hear a related case in its new term.
"Abortion should be the preeminent issue because when you think about it, none of those other issues matter if a person isn't given that first chance to live outside the womb," she said.
Youngkin defended his pro-life stance, with exceptions for instances of rape or if pregnancy complications threaten the life of a mother. And he clarified his support of a pain threshold bill to protect babies 20 weeks after conception.
Robertson said abortion will be unbarred if McAuliffe is elected.
"If Terry McAuliffe wins, he will do everything he can to enshrine Roe v. Wade into the Constitution," Robertson added. "He stated that explicitly last night."
A Battle Over Parents' Rights
Education also took precedence during Tuesday's second and final debate.
Youngkin noted the importance of parents having a say in what their kids are being taught. He noted the intense fighting in Fairfax County Public Schools where teachers are under fire for giving students books with explicit sexual encounters between underage boys and adult males.
In Loudon County, outrage over critical race theory and transgender proposals fueled a fire that made national news.
McAuliffe says he doesn't believe parents should tell schools what to teach their children.
"I'm not going to let parents come in and take out books and make their own decisions," McAuliffe said. "Yeah, I stopped the bill and I don't think parents should tell teachers what to do."
Youngkin agreed with McAuliffe that schools should be able to make decisions about the content they teach. But he also demanded that parents be included in the dialogue instead of being kept in the dark about what's on the shelves of their child's school.
Other points of contention surround the end of "right to work", lowering the crime rate, border policies, racism, creating jobs, Afghan refugees, climate change and rising water levels, Biden's $3.5 trillion spending bill, and giving support to Donald Trump.