By Dan Merica, CNN
Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe, in an effort to tie his gubernatorial opponent, Glenn Youngkin, to all things Donald Trump, is now linking the Republican nominee to the former President’s top focus: so-called election integrity.
The McAuliffe ad, released Wednesday by the former governor and Democratic gubernatorial nominee in the commonwealth’s off-year election, builds on multiple attacks leveled by the McAuliffe campaign, including its recent call for Youngkin to pull out of an upcoming election integrity rally at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“Growing our economy, that’s job number one — but not for Glenn Youngkin,” McAuliffe says in the ad. The spot features the Republican touting that his campaign launched an election integrity task force on “week one” and called it “the most important issue” they were going to address.
Youngkin responded to the McAuliffe attacks with a TV spot of his own, one that mocks McAuliffe’s attacks and says he is leveling them because he “doesn’t want to talk about his own extreme views.”
Trump has repeatedly lied about, the 2020 election being rigged, and the former President encouraged Republicans across the country to pass restrictive election laws after his loss to President Joe Biden.
Youngkin, for his part, emphasized election integrity during the Republican gubernatorial primary in Virginia and did not acknowledge Biden’s presidential win until after he won the nomination in May. Since then, Youngkin has tried to pivot to other issues, a reflection of the fine line he has to walk to appeal to both Trump’s base and to moderate voters in Virginia.
The McAuliffe ad, which a Democratic aide said would air in Richmond, Hampton Roads and the Washington area, also features a now oft-used soundbite of Youngkin saying Trump “represents so much of why I’m running.”
McAuliffe has made tying Youngkin to Trump the central attack of his campaign, hoping to link the Republican to a former President who lost the commonwealth in both 2016 and 2020. McAuliffe — who served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018 and is running to become one of a few governors to serve another term in a state that bars successive terms — is banking on that voters’ distaste for Trump will be enough to weigh Youngkin down.
Youngkin spokesperson Matt Wolking responded to McAuliffe’s ad by saying the former governor “opposes requiring a photo ID to vote, which undermines the integrity of our elections and makes it easier to cheat.”
“Glenn Youngkin will restore Virginia’s photo ID law and make sure it is easy for every eligible person to vote and harder to cheat,” Wolking said. “As an American, Glenn Youngkin is absolutely right that in order for Virginia to do well economically, the foundations of our country must be strong, including confidence in the integrity of our elections and Americans’ willingness to accept the results of our democratic process.”
Youngkin, since winning the Republican nomination, has focused his attention and advertising money on introducing himself to voters, highlighting his upbringing in a sweep of softer biography-focused ads that do not mention Trump.
“For too long we have been told there is only one way to do things in Richmond,” Youngkin says in one of his ads. “I’m Glenn Youngkin. I’m not a politician. … It’s a new day here in Virginia. And the future belongs to us, not them.”
And on Wednesday, Youngkin tweeted a new 30-second spot that mocks McAuliffe’s attack ads.
“What’s next, ‘I hate dogs’?” Youngkin asks, surrounded by his dogs Bo, Tobi, Cici and Belle. “I’m Glenn Youngkin, candidate for governor, and I sponsored this ad because I will be staying focused on what matters to Virginians, our families and yes, even our pets.”
At the same time, Youngkin’s campaign has also tried to link McAuliffe to the former Republican zpresident, noting that the Democrat received a donation from Trump during his failed 2009 gubernatorial campaign.
That strategy has been complicated by the fact that Trump himself has issued multiple statements lauding Youngkin, something that some Virginia Republicans have acknowledged is not entirely helpful in the commonwealth.
Trump, as part of his endorsement, called Youngkin “a highly respected person” and “an incredible success.”
The Youngkin campaign also responded to McAuliffe’s ad by highlighting video of the former Democratic National Committee chair telling an audience in 2004, “We actually won the last presidential election, folks. They stole the last presidential election.” He was talking about the 2000 election between then-Vice President Al Gore and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, which ended in a decision by the Supreme Court.
McAuliffe’s strategy to tie Youngkin to Trump got a significant boost last week when Biden headlined a rally in Virginia and went along with the attack.
“Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry. And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry,” McAuliffe said in Arlington. “I tell you what, the guy Terry is running against is an acolyte of Donald Trump — for real.”
This story has been updated with further developments.
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