Tonight was the first debate between gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin. It was hosted by the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, VA.
Susan Page, a fixture among Washington, DC, journalists, moderated the hour-long debate. She was joined by panelists Candace Burns (Emmy award-winning journalist and CBS6 News anchor) and Dr. Bob Holsworth (Founding Director of the Center for Public Policy and the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University).
The event typified the fast pace of a political debate. Questions posed by the moderator and panelists sometimes seemed lengthier than the time allotted for the candidates to respond. After each question, one candidate had 60 seconds to respond, and then the other candidate had 30 seconds to rebut.
Compare this rapid-fire pace with the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, known as the Great Debates of 1858. There were seven debates, each of them three hours long. One candidate spoke for 60 minutes. His opponent had 90 minutes to respond. Then the first candidate wrapped up for 30 minutes. Are today’s candidates capable of such a demanding timeframe? Is today’s audience capable of maintaining attention?
Nevertheless, tonight’s debate was an exhausting 60 minutes to watch and listen as the compound questions demanded simplified, rapid-fire answers. Topics covered included: COVID-related deaths, vaccine mandates, unemployment benefits, coal, the Clean Economy Act, infrastructure, broadband, abortion and fetal heartbeats, jobs, parole boards, police reform, qualified immunity, rising murder rates, election integrity, tax reform, transgender / non-binary students, school board autonomy, educational learning standards, Confederate statues, and, of course, boogeyman Donald Trump.
I’ll leave it to other commentators to comb through the transcript and parse dialogue, but will offer some observations that stood out to me.
Terry McAuliffe did not disappoint as a carnival barker. He’s a glib, hyperbolic, bombastic political salesman. He also has a dagger-like mean streak, which sets him apart from Glenn Youngkin. Several times McAuliffe declared, “three studies have shown,” “three independent analyses show,” “three recent reports show” without ever naming the authors; he was just trying to sound authoritative. He ridiculed Glenn Youngkin for promoting Public Service Announcements as a way to encourage people to get the COVID-19 shot. McAuliffe’s stance is to mandate the shots, individual choice be damned.
On the subject of abortion, McAuliffe sounds more concerned about whether or not Amazon, Google and Facebook employees will come to Virginia if a Texas-style abortion law is enacted, than he is with protecting the life of the unborn. As for Youngkin, he seemed uncomfortable talking about the Texas law and said he would not sign such a law as Governor of Virginia.
On the topic of qualified immunity for police officers, McAuliffe backtracked from an earlier position and said he would not end qualified immunity, a position Youngkin takes. [Nothing like an imminent election to focus a candidate.]
Glenn Youngkin has proposed a comprehensive economic plan, which Terry McAuliffe completely dismissed citing the Washington Post as his authority with this summation: “His plan would run our economy into a ditch.” [Terry must be thankful that he doesn’t have to abide by the format of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.]
There was a question about Confederate statues. Glenn Youngkin reminded the audience that Terry McAuliffe, as Governor, said the Lee and Jackson statues should remain in place, a position McAuliffe since has recanted. Youngkin believes such statues should be placed somewhere in view, like a museum or battlefield, and not erased from history, lest we be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
When the subject of election integrity came up, Glenn Youngkin declared that he didn’t agree with Donald Trump that Democrats will cheat in Virginia’s gubernatorial election. “We’re going to have a clean and fair election,” prophesied Youngkin. Several times, Terry McAuliffe called Glenn Youngkin a “Trump wanna be.”
Each candidate was asked if he would pledge to recognize his opponent as the legitimate Governor if his opponent wins the election. Youngkin affirmed, “Yes, but I don’t expect that to happen.” Not to be outdone, McAuliffe proclaimed, “Sure. Absolutely. But his Day 1 plan is to unleash COVID!”
The next debate is September 28, hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.