GRUNDY, Va. - Virginia's first gubernatorial debate took place Thursday, September 16 at 7 p.m.
Democrat candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin faced off ahead of Election Day, which is on November 2.
The debate comes the night before early voting starts across the state. The first day of in-person early voting at local voter registration offices is Friday, September 17, and the deadline to register to vote or update an existing registration is Tuesday, October 12.
The debate for governor was off to a fiery start. Vaccine mandates was the first question off the bat.
“What you’re going to hear from my opponent is a series of lies and excuses,” Youngkin said.
McAuliffe retorted, “He’s telling college students if you don’t want to get it, don’t get it. Do an exemption for whatever reason. That is disqualifying in my book to be governor.”
Each candidate was asked if they’d join other governors to challenge Biden’s mandate in court requiring private businesses with more than 100 workers to get the vaccine or weekly testing.
Republican Youngkin said he supports individual choice.
“I don’t believe President Biden has the authority to dictate to everyone that we have to take the vaccine,” he said. “I encourage everyone to get the vaccine, but I don’t think he has the authority to do so.”
Former McAuliffe said he supports adding the COVID shot to the list of required vaccines for students older than 12.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m not doing PSAs. I’m telling you let’s get everybody vaccinated.”
McAuliffe is fighting to keep Virginia blue. He served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and said voters should once again choose him. He said he would grow jobs, pay teachers more and lower healthcare premiums.
“Terry has the experience of getting this done and that’s what we need,” said McAuliffe.
Youngkin, a business executive, said he’d also invest in education, reduce taxes and reinvigorate the economy.
“Do you want tired, old, recycled policies from a tired politician, or do you want to embrace someone new?” said Youngkin.
Another contentious topic discussed is police accountability. Both candidates said they’ll keep qualified immunity for law enforcement.
As for signing an abortion law similar to that in Texas but would include exceptions for rape, both candidates were spit.
“I’m pro-life,” Youngkin said. “I believe in exceptions for rape and incest and when the mother’s life is at risk. As I said, I would not sign the Texas bill. My opponent ignores the truth. He’s the most extreme pro-abortion candidate in America today.”
McAuliffe rebutted, “I support a women’s right to make her own decision through a second trimester. That’s what I support and 80% of Virginians agree with what I just said.”
The latest polls show both candidates are neck and neck.
The debate took place at the Appalachian School of Law.
Journalist Susan Page served as moderator with panelists Dr. Bob Holsworth and Candace Burns.
The candidates turned down two other debates, so the next and last debate is set for September 28 in Alexandria.
This week, McAuliffe and Youngkin sparred over vaccines on Twitter. Youngkin said he wanted to shoot a PSA with McAuliffe at the debating to encourage vaccinations, but McAuliffe called the tweet a "gimmick."
Youngkin says he doesn't think vaccines should be mandated, regardless of profession.
"I wouldn't mandate it for people and I believe people need to be able to make their own decisions," he said.
McAuliffe has called for healthcare workers, nursing home employees and the federal workforce to face mandates, among others.
"I want to keep our schools open. I want to have a booming economy. It's not going to happen if we don't get people vaccinated," he said.
The two both attacked each other over the issue in recent interviews with News 3.
"I'm running against someone who doesn't believe you should have mandates on vaccines," said McAuliffe. "To me, that is disqualifying. To be governor, you have to keep your community safe."
"President Biden wants to mandate everything, and my opponent, Terry McAuliffe, wants to as well. They come from a political place that they think they know better than everyone," said Youngkin.
The latest polls show a close race with the average of the polls from Real Clear Politics giving McAuliffe a five-point lead over Youngkin.
If you missed the debate live, you can watch it above.