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Virginia governor's debate: McAuliffe and Youngkin battle over Covid-19 vaccine mandates

CNN logo CNN 9/29/2021 By Eric Bradner, CNN
Democratic former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (left) debates Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, in Alexandria, Virginia. The election is November 2. © Win McNamee/Getty Images Democratic former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (left) debates Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, in Alexandria, Virginia. The election is November 2.

Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe lambasted Republican Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday night over his opposition to mandating Covid-19 vaccines for state workers in the second and final debate of the Virginia governor's race.

The candidates' split on vaccines -- McAuliffe would require them for students, teachers and health care workers and would support businesses that imposed mandates; Youngkin says he encourages everyone to be vaccinated but opposes mandates -- has emerged as a central issue in 2021's marquee governor's race.

"He's going to send a child to a school where a teacher's not wearing a mask and a teacher's not vaccinated? That is disqualifying to be governor," McAuliffe said.

Youngkin, meanwhile, maintained that McAuliffe's characterization of his stance on vaccines is "the most egregious untruth my opponent continues to say about me."

"I've gotten the vaccine; my family has gotten the vaccine. It's the best way for people to keep themselves safe. And I in fact have asked everyone in Virginia to please get the vaccine. But I don't think we should mandate it," Youngkin said.

He said he does not want to run teachers and health care workers who oppose being vaccinated out of their jobs. "We need those health care workers. We need people on the job. To make their life difficult, that's no way to go serve Virginians," he said.

Youngkin stumbled when asked whether he believes that the required vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella should also be a personal choice for Virginians. He said that "the data associated with those vaccines is something that we should absolutely understand the difference between this vaccine."

Pressed again on his stance, Youngkin said: "Those vaccines can be mandatory. I do believe the Covid vaccine is one that everyone should get, but we shouldn't mandate it."

Throughout the debate, he sought to keep his party's most prominent member, former President Donald Trump, at arm's length.

Youngkin, the former co-chief executive of the private-equity firm Carlyle Group, rejected Trump's lies about widespread election fraud. He said that "there wasn't material fraud" in the 2020 election and it was "certifiably fair."

He didn't bring up Trump himself during the debate, and at one point pointed out that it was McAuliffe who was regularly referencing the former President.

Still, a moment at the end of the debate illustrated the tightrope Youngkin must walk between keeping the Republican base on his side and eager to vote and appealing to moderates and Democrats in the northern Virginia suburbs, a sizable share of whom he needs to win in November.

Youngkin was asked by moderator Chuck Todd of NBC if he would support Trump if he runs for president again in 2024.

"Who knows who's going to be running for president in 2024?" Youngkin said. "If he's the Republican nominee, I'll support him."

McAuliffe, too, distanced himself from his national party at one point. Asked if he supports the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that President Joe Biden and Democratic congressional leaders have backed, McAuliffe said he thinks the figure is "too high."

But he did urge Congress to approve the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

"They've got to stop their little chitty-chat up there, and it's time for them to pass it," McAuliffe said.

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