POLITICS

GOP's 'Moderate' Candidate For Virginia Governor Keeps Feeding Election Conspiracies

Just one case of fraud occurred in Virginia last year, but Glenn Youngkin apparently won't just tell Republican voters that.
Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, has positioned himself as a moderate outsider, even as he
Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, has positioned himself as a moderate outsider, even as he continues to push the idea that his state and others need to do more to bolster the "integrity" of elections in the wake of Donald Trump's defeat.

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s looming gubernatorial election, twice refused to shut down GOP voters’ wild conspiracy theories about former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss at a campaign event last week, even balking at the chance to correct a voter who posited that Trump could be reinstated to the presidency as soon as this month.

“I don’t know the particulars about how that can happen, because what’s happening in the court system is moving slowly and it’s unclear. And we all know the courts move slowly,” Youngkin said, in response to a question about whether Trump’s reinstatement could help Virginia Republicans claim seats they lost in elections the voter claimed had also been stolen. 

There is no possible path for Trump’s reinstatement, and no evidence that any election was stolen in Virginia or anywhere else last year. Both federal and state courts and the Supreme Court have rejected numerous efforts to overturn election results. 

But instead of directly refuting the voter’s claim, which is based on another conspiracy Trump has apparently circulated, or others made during a question-and-answer session at the opening of a new campaign office in Fredericksburg, Virginia, last Thursday, Youngkin chose to promote the so-called “election integrity” aspects of his platform, according to an audio recording obtained by HuffPost.

“Sir, I wish I had a magic wand, because we’ve got these same rules going into 2021,” Youngkin said in response to another voter who claimed to have knowledge of dead people casting ballots in last year’s elections, a favorite Trump conspiracy theory for which he has offered no proof. “And by the way, when I’m governor, we’ll be able to make some reforms.”

Youngkin has cast himself as a moderate in the contest against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, in which he’ll try to become the first Republican to win a statewide contest in Virginia since 2009. As Democrats have noted his flirtations with Trump’s election conspiracies, Youngkin in May finally acknowledged that Joe Biden is the legitimate president. He has also hit back at McAuliffe, pointing out that his Democratic opponent called for election audits in the wake of the 2000 presidential election.

But as a general election candidate, Youngkin has made “election integrity” — the misnomer Republicans have used to create a slew of new voting restrictions nationwide — a centerpiece of his campaign. He formed an election integrity task force and has said he would seek to push a voter ID bill and other new restrictions through the state legislature, which is currently controlled by Democrats.

His refusal to clearly refute the conspiracies Trump peddled offers a particularly sharp lens into the depth of GOP adherence to those lies: Even in Virginia, where candidates like Youngkin seem to sense that they need to moderate in order to score victories that have eluded the GOP for a decade, they routinely face questions from voters about election-related conspiracies that are now orthodoxy among the party’s base

“We have to have faith in our election process,” Youngkin said in response to the first voter’s question about supposedly dead voters. “We don’t trust our election process. We need to. So when I’m governor, we’re going to press forward with reforms, including making everybody show up with a photo ID. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The voter who asked about Trump’s potential reinstatement also suggested that the 2020 election had been “all fraud,” and Virginia elections “were stolen also.” State and local election officials from both parties and independent observers from numerous states have repeatedly said the 2020 elections were the safest, most secure and most reviewed elections in American history, and routine audits and hand recounts that follow best practices have found no evidence of widespread fraud in Virginia or anywhere else. A 2012 study found that there were nearly 2 million dead voters still on active voter rolls, but that there was no proof that it had led to election fraud.

“Glenn Youngkin is not focused on relitigating elections of the past, his goal is to give Virginians confidence in our democratic process moving forward,” a Youngkin spokesperson said. “That’s why he will restore Virginia’s photo ID law and make sure it is easy for every eligible person to vote and harder to cheat.”

The Youngkin campaign also noted that McAuliffe has touted the endorsement of a grassroots group that employed a man who was convicted of election fraud in Virginia in 2016. In recent weeks, it has also circulated comments McAuliffe made in 2001, when he claimed that Republicans “stole” the presidential election won by George W. Bush.

In a statement, Democratic Party of Virginia spokesperson Manuel Bonder blasted Youngkin for refusing to shut down the voters’ conspiracy theories.  

“Glenn Youngkin advancing the dangerous, unhinged lies that led to the January 6th insurrection is further proof that he belongs nowhere near the governorship,” Bonder said. “Virginia’s next governor must be one who will protect the sacred right to vote ― not one who will pander to tinfoil-hat conspiracies in order to please Donald Trump.”

After this story published, the Youngkin campaign sent a different statement to Virginia-based reporter Brandon Jarvis. 

“Terry McAuliffe and his allies in the liberal media sure do love to twist my words beyond recognition,” the statement said. “I’ve said that Joe Biden is legitimately our president, so there is no question here. As I tried to say politely the other day, there is no legal proceeding that will change the fact that Joe Biden and his liberal allies are dragging our economy down with their bad policies until 2025, and instead of litigating the past we must be focused on winning in November to stop those policies here in Virginia.”

Youngkin was far from the most ardent of Trump fanatics during Virginia’s GOP primary, which featured a state senator who attended the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” rally in Washington and cast herself as “Trump in heels,” and another candidate who attempted to paint himself as Fox News’ favored choice and the torchbearer of Trump’s election conspiracies.

But during a general election in which he has secured Trump’s endorsement, Youngkin has embraced the core message behind the claims: that the elections lacked sufficient protections to ensure their integrity ― if not in reality at least in the minds of Republican voters. 

Next weekend, Youngkin will headline a two-day “Election Integrity Rally” hosted by Virginia’s 5th District GOP. The event at Liberty University will also feature the rest of the Republican statewide ticket and many high-profile GOP lawmakers. Democrats have called on Youngkin and other Republicans to drop out of the rally. 

While he hopes to see major changes in the future, Youngkin explained to the voters last week that Republicans will have to “deal with” problems as they arise this year ― and insisted that the best way to do that was to turn out to vote in large numbers during early voting and mail-in ballot periods, both of which Trump questioned as rife with potential fraud throughout last year’s race. 

“I’m operating under the clear assumption that what we had happen election-wise last year ― from an oversight and process standpoint ― is exactly what we’re going to have this year,” Youngkin told the voter who’d asked about Trump’s reinstatement. “That’s why we’ve got to go to work. And if something else happens along the way, we’ll have to deal with it.”

He also pledged to recruit a bevy of election monitors to staff every polling location across the state, echoing the sort of strategy Pete Snyder, who repeatedly questioned the results of the 2020 election while running in the Virginia GOP gubernatorial primary, laid out earlier this year

“We’ll end up having election observers at every single precinct and we’re going to need to make sure that we all show up when we sign up,” he said. “All the equipment’s going to be the same. Everything is going to be the same, folks. This is why we got to have a lot of people show up to help us. This is what we got, because we’re not in charge ― and this is why elections matter.”

In Virginia, any monitors Youngkin deploys aren’t likely to find evidence of fraud. Just one instance of criminal election fraud occurred during Virginia’s 2020 elections, according to The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that allied itself with Trump and has long supported voter ID and other restrictions. Only 21 such cases have occurred in Virginia over the past 15 years.