A crowd of about 200 students and community members gathered Wednesday afternoon outside the Drysdale Student Center at the University of Lynchburg and welcomed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe to campus.
With smartphones held high, the crowd erupted in a chant — “Terry! Terry! Terry!” — and roared applause as the 64-year-old former governor emerged from his black SUV.
McAuliffe — who served as Virginia’s 72nd governor from 2014 to 2018 — promised he would support broadband access expansion, skills education, health care access, LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive freedoms if elected for a second term.
“I’ve got big, full plans, so I need your help,” he said. “I need to get elected.”
Election Day is Tuesday. McAuliffe said he hopes to secure the college student vote by sharing that he’s passionate about the issues they care about, such as protecting reproductive freedoms and same-sex marriage.
“I’m telling young people today that the issues that you care about, [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Glenn Youngkin is on the wrong side of every one of those issues, and his whole campaign has been about Donald Trump, divisiveness, hatred and we’ve got to move forward in a positive way,” he said.
McAuliffe said the biggest issue for him in this race is education.
“That’s why I’m back running again. We’ve got to invest $2 billion a year to fix our education system,” he said.
The gubernatorial candidate mentioned teacher pay and retention as issues he wants to address if elected, promising teacher wages higher than the national average.
He outlined three reasons why he wants to be governor: “to give people second chances, to lift people up, to build a booming economy.”
McAuliffe’s visit to campus was organized and co-sponsored by the university’s Student Government Association and the University of Lynchburg Democrats.
Matthew Gillett, president of the SGA at the University of Lynchburg, said the association is working to encourage civic engagement among students and hopes providing opportunities for the university community to hear from and meet with political candidates will foster that goal.
“It is our goal to provide all Hornets a wealth of information so that they can make an informed decision in the ballot box,” Gillett said.
Gillett said the SGA also reached out to Youngkin’s campaign team in hopes of arranging a date and time for him to visit the university.
Michael Jones, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communication, said the university gave permission for Wednesday’s event to be held outside the student center but wasn’t affiliated otherwise. Jones said politicians have visited the university in the past to meet with students and community members.
“It’s a great place to get the students involved in the process,” Jones said. “While we don’t endorse or support anything, it’s great to have them on campus.”
Carter Elliott IV, a 2019 graduate of the University of Lynchburg, currently is working as a political coordinator for the McAuliffe campaign. Elliott said returning to his alma mater with McAuliffe was “surreal.”
“Small schools like this don’t receive a lot of attention sometimes from a lot of statewide candidates and today almost 200 people came out to support the governor here in Lynchburg,” he said. “You know, you give places like this a lot of attention and they show you the love back, and Terry’s all about that.”
Several prominent Lynchburg figures attended Wednesday’s event, including Mayor MaryJane Dolan, Vice Mayor Beau Wright, former mayor Joan Foster, former mayor and current At-large City Councilor Treney Tweedy and Lynchburg City School Board Chair James Coleman.
“... We need inclusive, steady, common-sense leadership in Richmond, that’s what we need,” Wright said. “Which is why we need people like Terry McAuliffe and [Democratic lieutenant governor candidate] Hala Ayala and [Democratic attorney general candidate] Mark Herring in Richmond.”