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McAuliffe, Youngkin Set to Meet in First Gubernatorial Debate Thursday

Virginia Candidate Forum
Cliff Owen/AP
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FR170079 AP
Virginia gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Terry McAuliffe left, and Republican Glenn Youngkin, talk during the Virginia FREE Leadership Luncheon in McLean, Va., Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Thursday, candidates for governor will square off in the first of two debates.

Candidates for governor used to do four televised debates. In recent election cycles, they've done three. This year the candidates could agree on only two debates, which means the stakes are super high for the first debate in Grundy this week.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says this is the time for candidates to communicate directly to voters.

"Sometimes people who are newer to campaigns struggle in establishing themselves as effective debaters, their command of policy, their ability to respond quickly," explains Farnsworth. "It's not like being an effective debater makes you an effective governor. But you may never get the chance if you're not good at this."

This is former Governor Terry McAuliffe's third campaign for governor, so he’s got lots of experience at this. Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, on the other hand, has never run for office before.

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says that means the focus will be on Youngkin.

"He has been slow to put out policy proposals, and the policy proposals he's put out have been thin and so he's got to prove himself," says Kidd. "He's got to prove to voters that he has the ability to be the governor, and so I think he's got much more to lose."

So far, Youngkin has avoided answering questions about many policy positions like whether he supports the assault weapons ban or whether he supports requiring an ultrasound before a woman can get an abortion. This debate might be an opportunity for Youngkin to share more about what he would do if elected governor.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: September 15, 2021 at 4:20 PM EDT
Radio IQ will broadcast Thursday's debate live from 7 to 8 pm.