Virginia Bar Association cancels gubernatorial debate after Youngkin declines invitation


Republican gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkin, speaks during an event in Richmond, Va. on May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Bar Association will not host its traditional gubernatorial debate ahead of the Nov. 2 election, opting to cancel the one it planned for July 24 after Glenn Youngkin’s campaign shared he would not attend.

The Bar Association said the debate, traditionally the first one between statewide candidates, was off its 2021 summer meeting schedule after the VBA was unable “to get commitments for a debate that included all of the major candidates.”

“The debate has always been one of the highlights of the Summer Meeting, and the VBA has been grateful to be part of the political conversation in Virginia for more than 30 years,” the VBA said in a statement. “We are disappointed that a statewide debate will not be a part of this year’s program.”

In a release Monday, Youngkin’s campaign announced he has agreed to participate in three debates but not the one hosted by the Bar Association. Macaulay Porter, a Youngkin spokesperson, noted the VBA’s decision to not dedicate a part of the debate to the economy and moderator Judy Woodruff’s donation to the Clinton Foundation.

“Unfortunately, the VBA refused to dedicate a portion of the debate to a discussion on Virginia’s economy and jobs, which proved to be an insurmountable barrier in our negotiations,” Porter wrote in a statement. “It would also be a conflict of interest to have former Clinton Foundation board member Terry McAuliffe being ‘questioned’ by a Clinton Foundation donor.”

Woodruff, an award-winning journalist who has covered politics for more than 40 years, donated $250 to the Haiti Relief Fund, which the Clinton Foundation created to assist earthquake victims in 2010. The decision was called “a mistake” by a PBS ombudsman.

The campaigns for Youngkin, the Republican candidate in this year’s race, and Terry McAuliffe, his Democratic rival, have gone back and forth on how many times the candidates will face off before voters head to the polls. McAuliffe agreed to five general election debates, but the only debate both have committed to is one at the Appalachian School of Law on Sept. 16.

McAuliffe’s campaign called out Youngkin’s decision to decline the VBA’s debate invitation, one that candidates on both sides of the aisle have accepted for nearly four decades.

“Glenn Youngkin has spent his campaign embracing Donald Trump and trying to hide his true views from Virginia voters, so it’s no surprise he does not have the courage to face me at this debate and answer questions just as every Republican and Democratic nominee for governor has done since 1985,” McAuliffe said in a statement Monday.

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