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McAuliffe, Youngkin clash over vaccination, taxes in debate

·3 min read

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin clashed Tuesday evening over vaccination, tax policy and their respective records in the second and final debate in Virginia's closely watched gubernatorial election.

The event got off to a combative start, with Youngkin telling the audience in his opening statement that McAuliffe, a “40-year politician,” had lied during the first debate and would do so again.

McAuliffe quickly accused Youngkin of changing his message based on his audience.

Five weeks from Election Day and with early voting already underway, recent polls suggest a tight race between McAuliffe, who is seeking a second term after his first ended in 2018, and Youngkin, a former business executive and political newcomer.

Democrats made huge gains in Virginia while former President Donald Trump was in office, taking full control of state government, but Republicans are more energized and optimistic about their chances this fall than they have been in years. The contest, one of only two regularly scheduled governor's races this year, is also drawing national attention as a possible indicator of voter sentiment heading into next year's midterms.

Virginia does not allow its governors to serve consecutive terms, and McAuliffe is seeking a rare return after deciding against a run for president in 2020.

This campaign marks McAuliffe's third run for Virginia's highest office. A former Democratic National Committee chairman and top party fundraiser, McAuliffe unsuccessfully competed in the Democratic primary in 2009 before he went on to win the party's nomination in 2013 and beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the general election.

Youngkin, a former co-CEO of a private equity firm, is making his first run for elected office, campaigning as a political outsider.

Virginia Republicans, who have suffered a series of stinging losses in recent election cycles and have been shut out of statewide races since 2009, hope Youngkin can both excite the party's right wing and make inroads in suburban areas where Republicans saw a huge backlash during the Trump administration.

Polling has suggested the race is competitive, and has generally shown McAuliffe slightly ahead. A Monmouth University Poll released Monday and conducted between Sept. 22 and 26 found 48% of registered voters supported McAuliffe while 43% backed Youngkin. The poll, conducted with 801 Virginia registered voters had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Also on the ballot this fall are races for attorney general and lieutenant governor, plus all 100 seats in the House of Delegates.

After much back and forth this summer, Youngkin and McAuliffe agreed to only two debates. The first, held Sept. 16 in southwest Virginia, was devoid of big surprises or viral moments and largely focused on the candidates' sharply divergent positions on abortion and COVID-19.

Tuesday's hourlong debate, hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, was held at a community college campus in Alexandria.

NBC News political director Chuck Todd moderated the event, with NBC4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey and Telemundo 44 reporter Alberto Pimienta posing questions.

Princess Blanding, an activist and educator making a third-party bid who was not invited to participate, interrupted the debate, shouting from the audience about how she had been shut out. The station went to a commercial break.

She told The Associated Press earlier in the day that the Chamber of Commerce had invited her to sit in the audience and meet with the press afterward.

“The way that felt to me was, yes, you can come and get on the bus like everybody else ... but you’re going to sit in the back of the bus. I met the requirements just like they did to get on the ballot, however, I’m being blocked,” she said.

Election Day is Nov. 2, and the deadline to register to vote or update an existing registration is Oct. 12.

____

Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.

Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press

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