WARRENTON, Virginia – Republican Glenn Youngkin declined to say on Thursday whether he wanted former President Donald Trump to campaign for him in the final weeks of the high-stakes gubernatorial election in Virginia and stepped down distanced from a controversial right-wing rally supporting his candidacy the night before.
“The person who will be campaigning here for the next two and a half weeks is Glenn Youngkin. I’m on the ballot, ”he told reporters, referring to himself in third person after a campaign event in a public park.
Youngkin – who tries to walk a fine line in appealing to both the “Forever Trumpers and Never Trumpers,” as he puts it – said he was unaware of the “Take Back Virginia Rally” of Wednesday in Richmond, where attendees pledged allegiance to a Flag organizers said they were in attendance during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan.6, when a group of Trump supporters rallied storms the building trying to prevent certification of its defeat.
“I wasn’t involved, so I don’t know. But if that was the case, then we shouldn’t be swearing allegiance to this flag, ”Youngkin said. “And by the way, I’ve been so clear, there is no room for violence – none, none – in America today. We have our rights to assemble and protest protected … but there is no room for violence.
Later, in a statement, Youngkin added that it was “bizarre and wrong to pledge allegiance to a January 6 flag” and called the violence during the pro-Trump riot “disgusting and wrong.”
Trump spoke by phone at Wednesday night’s rally in Richmond, telling attendees Youngkin is “a great gentleman” and repeating his lies that he won the 2020 election. The rally featured former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and was hosted by conservative talk show host John Fredericks, the former president of Trump’s Virginia campaign.
The former president backed Youngkin, whose campaign staff includes several former Trump aides, but he allowed the former private equity executive and political newcomer to put some distance between him and the former president.
Youngkin stayed away from the Bannon rally, although one of the speakers was controversial State Senator Amanda Chase, a prominent promoter of electoral fraud conspiracy theories who backs and lost in the Republican primary.
“The only chief substitute for Glenn Youngkin is Glenn Youngkin,” he said of Chase’s presence at the event.
And while Youngkin has vowed to strengthen election security, he has disowned Trump’s lies about the 2020 campaign.
“I’ve been very, very clear from the start that I don’t think there was massive fraud in Virginia during the campaign and that Joe Biden was rightfully elected our president,” Youngkin said.
Pressed again to find out if he wants Trump to come to Virginia, Youngkin dodged. “Anyone who calls me a good man, I appreciate him so much, including President Trump,” he said.
In contrast, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor of Virginia who is now running for his old post, has embraced some of his party’s biggest national stars. Former President Barack Obama, First Lady Jill Biden and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams will campaign for him in the coming days. Biden did so in July.
Youngkin knows he will have to win over moderate commuters and get the Conservative base involved in this off-year election if he is to be the first Republican to win in all of Virginia since 2009.
But for Democrats, Youngkin’s bewildering approach to his party’s right flank is just an act and nothing less than outright rejection of Trump is not enough.
“It all comes down to the same thing here – Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump,” McAuliffe said during a call his campaign held with reporters in response to Wednesday’s rally.
McAuliffe’s campaign was quick to note that Youngkin thanked Fredericks for organizing the event during an appearance on his radio show Monday.
McAuliffe’s campaign has also been launched a new television commercial Thursday with video of Trump’s rally praising Youngkin.
“I hope Glenn gets in there and does whatever we want a governor to do,” Trump says in the ad, which ends with a text that reads: “Glenn Youngkin is Donald Trump’s nominee , not yours. “