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Editorial: Both Youngkin and McAuliffe are doing voters a disservice
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Editorial: Both Youngkin and McAuliffe are doing voters a disservice

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The 2021 governor’s race is coming into focus, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Campaigns are often about distractions and sleights of hand — magicians would often be proud — rather than a serious discussion of the issues.

The former is exactly what we’re getting here from both Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

Some observations so far:

1. Youngkin is trying to hide.

Politically, that’s understandable. He’s got a bazillion dollars; why subject himself to the political process — which, by its nature, is unpredictable — when he can just pay to put his own message out?

As a matter of civics, it’s an avoidance of his obligations to voters and, perhaps, his future constituents.

Since 1985, the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor have always debated before the Virginia Bar Association’s summer meeting. That’s nine cycles in a row now, which ought to be enough to declare that a tradition. There will not be a tenth.

Youngkin says he will skip this year’s event. He has two so-called objections. The first is that moderator Judy Woodruff has donated to the Clinton Foundation, so therefore isn’t an objective questioner. The second is that there isn’t a section of the forum devoted to the economy.

Now, for the rest of the story: Woodruff’s donation was $250 — for Haitian earthquake relief. She explained six years ago that “the tragedy hit and we were told by relief experts that the quickest way to get a contribution to the victims, was through the William J. Clinton Foundation. It had a long-standing involvement in Haiti before the quake. To repeat, my gift was made out to the Haiti Relief Fund, not the general Clinton Foundation.”

If we were truly cynics we’d ask how much Youngkin donated to Haitian relief. The point is this is a pretty lame excuse. Youngkin simply doesn’t want to debate.

As for the format, we’ve taken issue with Woodruff’s questions before. In 2017, we specifically criticized Woodruff for asking too many Washington-oriented questions when we thought there should be more Virginia-focused questions. But we also know that clever candidates always find a way to say what they want to say no matter what the question was.

(We are reminded of former state Sen. Malfourd “Bo” Trumbo, R-Botetourt, who was a master of this. He often said he answered the question he wanted to be asked, not the question that really was asked).

If Youngkin wants to talk the economy, he could surely find a way.

Here’s the thing: Youngkin wants to be governor. If he’s elected, he’ll have to answer a lot tougher questions than any that Woodruff might pose.

Voters deserve to see the candidates questioned — the more often the better.

Youngkin is the blankest of blank slates — he’s never held office before. And beyond some general conservative bromides, he hasn’t really had much to say. Voters ought to hear more from him.

If he really wants to debate the economy, we’d love to see that debate because there are a lot of questions both candidates ought to be asked.

Tops on our list is how will they go about building a new economy in rural Virginia.

That’s why Youngkin’s debate avoidance is a political mistake in another way: We already know what McAuliffe’s record is. Youngkin ought to welcome a chance to debate McAuliffe’s record every chance he gets.

The fact that he’s avoiding those debates does a disservice not just to Virginia voters at large, but to his own campaign. He comes off looking weak and afraid.

2. Must we really endure a campaign over Donald Trump?

Apparently so.

Democrats early on signaled their intention to run as much against Trump as they were against Youngkin.

They started off by labelling Youngkin as Trump’s “hand-picked candidate.” That’s patently false. Trump made no endorsement during the Republican nomination fight. There were other contenders who were far more aligned with Trump than Youngkin was.

Youngkin played footsie with the Trumpers more than he should have — to be true to their heritage, Republicans should disown Trump and Trumpism but we’re sadly long past that stage. But there is zero evidence that Youngkin is any kind of Trump acolyte.

You probably don’t get to be co-CEO of the world’s second-largest private equity firm by being crude and irrational, two prime hallmarks of Trumpism.

That said, Trump is doing Youngkin no favors with his repeated and apparently unsolicited praise for the Virginia Republican nominee. Trump’s not trying to help Youngkin; he’s trying to help himself.

If Trump really wanted to help Youngkin win in a state that twice rejected him (and rejected Trump wanna-be Corey Stewart by an even wider margin), he’d keep his mouth shut. Instead, Trump can’t help running his. Why? He thinks Youngkin has a good chance of winning (he does) and wants to be able to claim credit for any eventual victory (even if such a victory would come in spite of Trump, not because of him).

We understand McAuliffe’s desire to tie Youngkin to Trump just as we understand Youngkin’s desire to avoid hard questions. But that doesn’t make either strategy good for voters.

Voters ought to hear what both candidates would do if they find themselves sitting behind the governor’s desk in January. McAuliffe, to his credit, has a much longer list of policy papers than Youngkin does — but he’d do a better service to voters by talking about them and not Trump.

3. Just what would a Republican administration do?

We really don’t know. For better or worse, we know exactly what kind of governor McAuliffe will be, because he’s been governor before. With Youngkin, we have no idea.

Democrats are making much of Youngkin’s comments that he’d “go on offense” over abortion restrictions — although given Youngkin’s lack of a record, voters have no idea whether to believe that or not. Maybe he’s telling the truth. Maybe he’s just telling conservative voters want they want to hear.

But another, perhaps equally telling glimpse, came when Youngkin said he wouldn’t try to repeal the state’s legalization of marijuana. That’s an intriguing admission. It means Youngkin gets to make the general case that Democrats have gone too far, and in the wrong direction, during the two years in which they’ve had complete control of state government — but on one key Democratic initiative, won’t try to undo anything.

That raises other questions that deserve to be answered: Would Republicans try to undo anything Democrats have done? Whether you’re for that or against that, wouldn’t it be nice to know? Too bad we won’t have a debate coming up that might tell us.

— The Roanoke Times

— The Roanoke Times

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