McAuliffe and Youngkin continue to spar over debates in Virginia governor’s race

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Republican gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkin, prepares to address the crowd at an event in Richmond, Va., left, and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, gestures as he addresses the crowd during an election party in McLean, Va., right. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin have each agreed to take part in multiple debates in the race for Virginia governor, but so far, they only plan to meet on the debate stage twice before the election.

McAuliffe, the Democrat nominee, signed on for five debates and Youngkin, the Republican candidate, has agreed to participate in three. Two debates, including one that all Virginia gubernatorial candidates have taken part in since 1985, were cancelled after Youngkin said he would not attend.

Their campaigns have gone back and forth on the debate schedule, attacking each other over their reasons for not committing to the same debates. Both candidates have used the issue to claim their rival is trying to avoid debating them on key issues for Virginia voters.

“Terry McAuliffe still hasn’t agreed to debate me next month. I’ve said I’ll be there,” Youngkin tweeted on July 24 after confirming his participation in three debates. “What’s taking him so long?”

“Oh give me a break, Glenn. If you really wanted to debate you’d have been up on stage with me at the VBA Debate TODAY,” McAuliffe responded in his own tweet. “I agreed to 5 debates. You’ve already chickened out of one. Let’s go.”

The debate McAuliffe referenced in his tweet would have been hosted by the Virginia Bar Association, and was scheduled for July 24 until organizers cancelled the long-standing debate after Youngkin opted to skip. A Youngkin spokesperson cited the VBA’s decision to not devote a part of the debate to the economy and concern over a $250 donation moderator Judy Woodruff gave to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, an effort created by the Clinton Foundation with former President George W. Bush to assist earthquake victims in 2010. 

“Unfortunately, the VBA refused to dedicate a portion of the debate to a discussion on Virginia’s economy and jobs, which proved to be an insurmountable barrier in our negotiations,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter wrote in a statement. “It would also be a conflict of interest to have former Clinton Foundation board member Terry McAuliffe being ‘questioned’ by a Clinton Foundation donor.”

On Monday, AARP Virginia announced it was cancelling its televised debate in Richmond, The People’s Debate, due to Youngkin’s decision to not take part.

When asked whether its eligibility rules would be temporarily altered to allow third-party candidate Princess Blanding to debate, AARP Virginia spokesperson Ginger Thompson said the criteria would not change. A candidate must receive a minimum of 15% support in at least one poll, a level Blanding is unlikely to reach as her name has not been listed in several polls, to take part in the AARP debate.

“It was never the people’s debate when it silenced the only Black (20% of Virginia) LGBTQ (4% of Virginia) Working Class (99% of Virginia) Woman (51% of Virginia) in the race,” Blanding wrote on Twitter after the AARP announced the cancellation.

Citing Youngkin’s scheduled appearance at an “election integrity” rally at Liberty University, McAuliffe’s campaign spokesperson shared the former Virginia governor would not participate in a debate forum hosted by Liberty, Hampton University and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

A site for the debate has not been revealed, but Youngkin’s campaign has criticized McAuliffe for opting against a debate hosted by one of Virginia’s historically Black colleges and universities. McAuliffe has committed to one debate at Norfolk State University, another HBCU.

McAuliffe and Youngkin are set to face off twice in a two-week span ahead of the Nov. 2 general election. First, the candidates will debate at the Appalachian School of Law on Sept. 16 and then again at George Mason University on Sept. 28.

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