First published by the American Independent Foundation
Virginia’s Republican nominee for governor reportedly told supporters at a fundraising event in June that he couldn’t reveal his true position on abortion rights until after he’s elected.
His reasoning: He needs the independent vote to ensure his victory in November.
Glenn Youngkin, the venture capitalist running as a Republican in Virginia’s gubernatorial race against former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, made the comments to Lauren Windsor, who runs The Undercurrent, a self-described “grassroots political web-show” funded by the liberal advocacy group American Family Voices.
The American Independent obtained the video footage from Windsor, who also shared it with MSNBC.
In the video, Windsor begins speaking with Youngkin about her feigned support for things like “getting a fetal heartbeat bill here like they did in Texas, or defunding Planned Parenthood.”
A man who identifies himself only as “Pete” also appears in the video, though his full identity is not immediately clear.
Youngkin responds by telling Windsor that she’s “on the right path,” adding that he initially wants to work on abortion issues he says a “majority of Virginians” support, including to “stop using taxpayer money for abortions” and banning “abortions all the way up until the last week before birth.” (Taxpayer money is not used to fund abortions.)
When Windsor pushes him more, Youngkin says that he’s unable to speak much on the issue for fear of losing the independent voters he says he needs to win Virginia’s gubernatorial contest in November.
“I’m gonna be really honest with you, the short answer is, in this campaign, I can’t,” Youngkin says after “Pete” asks him whether he plans to “take it to the abortionists.”
“When I’m governor, and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense,” he continues. “But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get. So you’ll never hear me support Planned Parenthood, what you’ll hear me talk about is actually taking back the radical abortion policies that Virginians don’t want.”
In a separate video from The Undercurrent, shared with the American Independent, Youngkin again talks about his need to appeal to independent voters in order to win the gubernatorial race.
“We’re going after those middle 1 million voters who are, sadly, gonna decide this — have decided elections for the last 10 to 12 years in Virginia, and they’ve moved a bit away from us,” Youngkin tells a room of supporters. “We’re going to get them. We just got back a whole bunch of data today, and we’re winning this group. This is the group that we have to go get.”
He continues, “What’s most interesting in the dataset that comes back is the decisions, the issues, and the emotions of this group are nearly 100% aligned with Republicans. That’s because the issues that are gonna decide this race are, first and foremost, the economy and jobs — 25% of these targeted folks say that that’s their most important issue. Second issue: public safety. Third issue: schools. These are the issues that swing voters, these are the issues that Republicans are most focused on.”
In a statement to the American Independent, a Youngkin spokesperson denied that the Virginia Republican was hiding his positions.
“This deceptively recorded audio demonstrates that Glenn Youngkin says the same thing no matter who he is talking to, and that Terry McAuliffe’s allegations about him are false,” the spokesperson said, referring to an original transcript of the video, in which Windsor appears to identify herself to Youngkin only as a “Michelle,” which Windsor later said was her middle name.
Abortion rights advocate and former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, who is currently serving as co-chair of the left-leaning opposition research group American Bridge 21st Century, meanwhile, accused Youngkin of “tricking Virginians into thinking he’s reasonable — when it’s clear that he stands with Donald Trump and the extremists of the Republican Party.” (The American Independent is funded in part by American Bridge.)
“This should terrify women who care about making their own health care decisions and doing what is best for their families,” Richards said.
Republicans, for their part, have not won a gubernatorial contest in Virginia since 2009, and have lost every presidential contest in the state since 2008.
Youngkin has tried to pivot to a more moderate message in order to change his party’s fortunes. However, his ties to Trump — who is unpopular in Virginia — may complicate things.
Shortly after Youngkin won the GOP nomination, Trump gave Youngkin a glowing endorsement, saying “Glenn is pro-Business, pro-Second Amendment, pro-Veterans, pro-America, he knows how to make Virginia’s economy rip-roaring, and he has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
Still, Youngkin cannot afford to lose Republican base voters in the state by moving too far to the middle.
The push and pull between appealing to both moderates and the GOP base is is the exact conundrum 2017 GOP nominee Ed Gillespie — once hailed for his more moderate Republican profile — had in the state.
Rather than court independent voters, Gillespie chose to go after the Trump-supporting base, running racist ads that voiced support for Trump’s anti-immigrant platform. Gillespie went on to lose to now-Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam by 9 points.
Republicans are heavily targeting Virginia’s gubernatorial election, hoping a win here could start a narrative that Republicans are on track to win majorities in the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.
“This is going to be a test about whether or not a candidate can appeal to a Trump base in a nominating battle then pivot and win suburban voters. [Republicans] nominated someone who looks like he might have the capacity to do that,” Virginia-based political analyst Bob Holsworth told the Los Angeles Times in May.
Youngkin is set to face off with McAuliffe, who is seeking a second, non-consecutive term, in November. In Virginia, governors can only serve four years in a row, and cannot run for another consecutive four years.
A poll from mid-June found McAuliffe with a 4-point lead over Youngkin.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race a Lean Democratic contest.