Why you? In third debate, Democratic candidates for governor answer the question.

By: - May 20, 2021 9:31 pm
The five Democratic candidates for governor squared off in a virtual debate on May 20.

The five Democratic candidates for governor squared off in a virtual debate on May 20.

The five Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia squared off in a virtual debate Thursday night, the third of four debates scheduled before the June 8 primary.

The hourlong event hosted by NBC4 Washington covered much of the same territory as the first two debates, with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Del. Lee Carter laying out their plans for COVID-19 recovery, education, police reform and health care with few opportunities for extended back-and-forth between candidates.

Some of the most direct answers of the night came when moderator Chuck Todd of NBC News asked questions about electability and qualifications tailored specifically to each candidate.

Here’s how that portion went:

Todd: “In the most recent debate before this one, Jennifer Carroll Foy said you represented the politics of the past. So why are you the best person to be your party’s nominee in the future?”

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (NBC12)

McAuliffe: “Listen, I’m here today because people know that I will go big and bold. People know that we now have COVID and the effects of that are going to be around for a long time. But I am here because the leadership of the Black Caucus in Virginia came to me and said ‘Terry, no one leaned in more for the Black and brown community than you did.’ More rights restoration than any governor in the history of the United States of America. More pardons than any governor before me here in Virginia. You know, state Senator and President Pro Tem Louise Lucas, the most powerful African-American woman in the state, said ‘We need you to come back.’ She’s now chairing my campaign. But that’s why, if you look today, Chuck, that I have three times as [much] support from the Black Caucus of Virginia as everybody else on this stage combined. Why? I went big and bold under difficult situations before. We need experience now to lead us out of this very tough crisis. I did it before. I’ll do it again. And I have big bold plans. One hundred and thirty pages. Fourteen proposals on my website to take Virginia to the next level. We’ve tinkered around long enough. It is time to lead for today.”

Todd: “Ms. Carroll Foy, you have never run for statewide office before, and you served just a single full term in the House of Delegates. So why should the party take a chance on you to defeat the Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin?”

Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Carroll Foy: “So the Republican Governors Association is attacking me because they are worried. And they should be. They know that I am the most electable in this race because I will out-inspire and outwork the Republicans in November. I flipped a Republican district while pregnant with twins, and being outspent and out-endorsed. But I will never be outworked. So many people have told me all my life that it’s not my time and not my turn. Millions of women out there know exactly what that feels like. Having our experience undermined and our credentials questioned. But I’m not here to ask the patriarchy for permission. I’m here to get things done for the people of Virginia. And I’ve been one of the most effective legislators in Virginia’s history: Passing the Equal Rights Amendment, Medicaid expansion and so much more. So we have an opportunity to build back Virginia in a way that leaves no one behind. And that’s what this campaign is about. That’s why we’re mobilizing. We have the energy. We have the message that’s resonating with the people. And I ask for their support for governor on June 8.”

Todd: “Ms. McClellan, a new TV ad of yours argues that Mr. McAuliffe represents the past. But you chaired his transition to be governor. So how do you square your past support of him versus your opposition now?”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, on the Senate floor. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

McClellan: “Governor McAuliffe was the right governor for that time. But Virginia is different. And the good news is we don’t have to choose between a new perspective and experience, because I bring both. I bring the experience of someone whose parents lived through the tyranny of Jim Crow during the Depression. And I came to the General Assembly as a 32-year-old Black woman from the most Democratic district in the state, operating in a body that was mostly White Republican men over 50. And yet I’ve been able to pass over 300 bills. And since being in the majority, I’m the only person on this stage who has passed bills to address clean energy and address climate change, to expand access to reproductive health, to expand worker protections to domestic workers and to create the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, one of the strongest voting rights acts in the country. And I have the support of the people on the ground who have been doing the work to address inequity, and have done more to address inequity than any other candidate on this stage. And bringing perspectives that were not represented in the General Assembly. I  will do the same as governor. And that is why the grassroots support of New Virginia Majority and Care in Action is so important. Because they know I’ve been doing the work.”

Todd: “Mr. Fairfax, you are running on your experience as lieutenant governor, but if voters are looking for experience, executive experience, why choose you over somebody who’s already been governor?”

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate on the opening day of the 2020 session of the General Assembly. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Fairfax: “Well Chuck, our current governor, Gov. Northam, served as lieutenant governor and then was elected to governor. The same for now-Senator Tim Kaine. And of course, Gov. Doug Wilder first served as lieutenant governor and four years later was elected governor. I believe the experience we’ve had in the last four years, being part of the most progressive administration in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is something that has really resonated with millions of voters around the Commonwealth. I have been proud of the work that I’ve done to break the ties to expand Medicaid, so now 550,000 more Virginians have health insurance as a result. Breaking the ties to make Virginia the first state in the South to legalize marijuana. Also helping to lead the fight around gun violence prevention, focusing on so many of the issues that go to the heart of whether or not people are safe, secure and have the opportunity to achieve the American dream. And so we’ve put forward an incredible vision that is focused on investments in education, investments in the future. And you pair that with the experience that we’ve had and the success that we’ve had over the last four years, and that’s a vision that I think Virginians support.”

Todd: “Mr. Carter, Democrats have been trying to defend themselves from Republicans calling them socialists for years now. But you’re a proud socialist Democrat. Why wouldn’t that be a liability for the party’s next gubernatorial nominee?”

Del. Lee Carter, a Democrat from Manassas who identifies as a democratic socialist, was elected to the House of Delegates in 2017.

Carter: “‘Cause they’re going to call you that anyway Chuck. They called Joe Biden a socialist and he’s about as far right as you can get in the Democratic party. The Republican party is not beholden to the truth. And so you just got to lean in. You got to explain the benefits of your policies to the voters. And the question is, who is going to excite voters the most in November?

Are people who have been fighting against the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline for the last six or seven years going to be excited to vote for the guy who approved those pipelines? Of course they’re not. Are people who are struggling to pay the rent because the Amazon deal jacked up the price of their housing going to be excited to vote for any of the four candidates that supported it? Of course they’re not. Are people who care about getting money out of politics going to be excited to vote for a corporate-funded candidate? Of course they’re not. I’m the only candidate in this Democratic primary who’s never taken a single dime from fossil fuel corporations, who’s never taken a single dime from big banks, who’s never taken a single dime from police organizations. I’ve never taken any money from any for-profit corporation or industry interest group. I never have and I never will.”

The final debate of the primary will be held June 1.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.