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by Brandon Jarvis

Terry McAuliffe (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R) met at Northern Virginia Community College Tuesday night for their second and final debate in the race to become the next governor of the commonwealth.  

The night revealed very little new information about the candidates, however, with each one holding steady on their positions. 

McAuliffe stood by his recent policy shift on qualified immunity for law enforcement, a law protecting them from civil lawsuits while on the job. McAuliffe said he continues to support the law at the debate Tuesday after indicating during the primary campaign that he would support erasing it. He did not directly answer questions as to why he flipped on this issue. 

Youngkin has opposed repealing qualified immunity since his campaign began. Virginia’s Fraternal Order of Police endorsed him earlier in the day on Tuesday. 

Youngkin stood by his position of opposing mandates for the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday night. He urged people to receive the vaccine but wants them to do it on their own, not because of a mandate. He was also stumped briefly by a question asking if he supports mandating vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella. “Data associated with those vaccines is something that we should absolutely understand the difference between this vaccine,” Youngkin responded at first, before being pushed to answer the question directly. “Those vaccines can be mandatory. I do believe the COVID vaccine is one that everyone should get, but we shouldn’t mandate it.”

Youngkin’s campaign confirmed after the debate that he supports mandatory vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella.

McAuliffe has called for vaccine requirements in most settings and professions across Virginia. 

On ‘right to work’ laws, McAuliffe also made a reversal on this issue compared to his comments during the primary race. “Right to work is not going to change in Virginia,” McAuliffe said during the debate, noting he wants to focus on things that would actually pass in the General Assembly.

He cites the 83-13 vote in the House of Delegates earlier this year that killed the legislation that would have repealed ‘right to work’ laws. Since that vote, powerful House Democrat and Finance Chair Luke Torian declared his support for repealing the law that makes it difficult for unions to have any power in Virginia.

Youngkin has opposed repealing ‘right to work’ laws since the start of his campaign. He often attacks McAuliffe for his previous comments about repealing the law during the primary, even though McAuliffe has since changed that position to match Youngkin’s.

Youngkin stood by his stance that he does not want the right to have an abortion enshrined into the Virginia Constitution. He reiterated Tuesday that he does support the right to an abortion in the case of incest or rape, but he would seek to ban abortions at the pain threshold, often considered to be around 20 weeks. 

McAuliffe stood by his position that he supports the abortion laws that are already on the books and would be a “brick wall” for women’s reproductive rights. 

One curveball thrown at Youngkin during the debate happened when he was asked a question about the 2024 presidential race and if he would support Trump if he becomes the nominee. “If he’s the Republican nominee, I’ll support him,” Youngkin said.

The Republican nominee pushed back on McAuliffe’s constant attempts to tie him to Trump. “There’s an over and under tonight on how many times you are going to say ‘Donald Trump,’ and it was 10,” Youngkin said during the debate. “And you just busted through it. You are running against Glenn Youngkin.”

McAuliffe expressed displeasure with the high price tag for the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, while Youngkin said he believes that there is a “good future: in it. “I look forward to those funds coming to Virginia and putting them to work,” Youngkin continued.

Both candidates agreed that decisions on transgender policies should be made at the local level. McAuliffe said the state will always provide guidance.

Youngkin’s campaign declared victory after the debate in a statement. “Undefeated debate champion Glenn Youngkin put on a display and ran circles around a 43-year politician Terry McAuliffe, who has spent more time inside a debate hall than he has on a manufacturing floor or in a boardroom working to create jobs,” said Mark Campbell, Youngkin’s campaign manager. 

“There was only one person on the debate stage tonight with the plans to keep Virginians healthy and safe, keep our kids in school, and keep our economy strong: Terry McAuliffe,” said Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker. 

McAuliffe also released a new TV ad moments after the candidates walked off the state highlighting Youngkin’s stance on the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Polling in the race has shown a tight race for weeks. A new poll from Monmouth University Monday showed McAuliffe with a 5-point lead among registered voters in Virginia.

The national election analysts at Cook Political Report changed their rating for this to a toss-up last week, possibly waking up content Democrats that believed Virginia had become a safe blue commonwealth. “To borrow from Mark Twain, the reports of the end of Virginia’s status as a swing state are greatly exaggerated,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington.

The candidates have until Nov. 2 to convince Virginia voters to show up for them at the polls.

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By vascope