At a recent Virginia rally, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin touted his plans to boost the economy and combat crime while saying nothing about false claims that Democratic President Joe Biden’s election victory was tainted by fraud.
However, moments before the former private equity executive’s speech, Republican state Senator Amanda Chase told Youngkin supporters – offstage and without a microphone – that she was concerned about a repeat of election fraud. “I understand what the Democrats are trying to do,” she said in an interview following remarks that drew applause. “If things happen again like this past year, they will be caught,” said Chase, one of Virginia’s leading supporters of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, who last year called on Trump to declare martial law after losing to Biden.
The dynamic exemplified Youngkin’s delicate balancing act on the campaign trail. He is attempting to avoid alienating Trump, a Republican, whose claims that the election was stolen from him were rejected by dozens of courts, state election officials, and members of his own administration.
Youngkin, on the other hand, does not want to alienate the independent voters who oppose Trump and his role in inciting the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol intended to overturn his election defeat.
The election between Youngkin and his Democratic opponent, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, on Nov. 2 is widely regarded as a forerunner to the 2022 congressional races that will determine which party controls Congress for the second half of Biden’s term.
“Youngkin has the difficult task that many mainstream Republicans have,” said Jessica Taylor, a Cook Political Report analyst who believes the Youngkin-McAuliffe race is a toss-up. “You have to thread the needle very carefully here because you don’t want to irritate Trump’s base, which you also need.”
Trump has endorsed Youngkin and warned that the election could be rigged against him.
Youngkin, on the other hand, has described Biden’s victory as “certifiably fair.” He has made more nuanced statements about election integrity, stating this month that Virginia’s voting machines should be audited, which is already being done.
Youngkin told the crowd at his rally on Friday, held under a covered horse-riding arena in Chesterfield, south of the state capital, Richmond: “Election observers are required. Please consider volunteering to be election observers.”
He also expressed gratitude to Chase for speaking at the rally. “Thank you for being our partner,” he said as he pointed her out in the crowd. Chase, who lost the Republican primary to Youngkin, has attended several of his campaign events.
When asked about the discrepancy between Youngkin’s and Chase’s comments on election fraud, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter pointed to McAuliffe’s ties to Democrats involved in previous election disputes, such as former Vice President Al Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election to Republican George W. Bush after the Supreme Court halted further recounts, and Stacey Abrams, who contested her 2018 defeat in the Georgia governor’s race.
McAuliffe’s campaign has capitalized on Youngkin’s comments about election machine audits, airing a television commercial last week that contrasted Youngkin’s position with what a voice in the spot described as Trump’s “conspiracy theories,” juxtaposed with images of the Jan. 6 riot.
Virginia has shifted Democratic in the last decade, thanks in part to population growth in its liberal-leaning Washington suburbs.
Biden defeated Trump by ten percentage points in Virginia, the fourth time a Democratic presidential candidate has won the state. From 1968 to 2004, Republicans won every presidential election in Virginia. Many Youngkin supporters at his rally said they were aware of Youngkin’s balancing act in the event of Trump’s defeat in 2020.
“He probably can’t come out and say it was stolen like I can,” said Tim Ashlin, 63, of Cumberland, Virginia, a retired utilities systems operator. “He needs to be more centrist.”
Some experts are concerned that Youngkin’s messaging, as well as his campaign’s use of Chase, will erode public trust in American elections.
“He’s clearly trying to have his cake and eat it,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, a voting rights advocacy organization.