Trump calls Virginia 'very winnable;' Youngkin skips event, which features claims of election fraud

Former President Donald Trump speaks during his rally in Perry, Ga., on Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Former President Donald Trump, saying “Virginia is very, very winnable,” on Wednesday night called in to a GOP “Take Back Virginia” rally in Henrico County and urged his supporters to help elect Glenn Youngkin as Virginia’s next governor.

Youngkin, who is in a tight contest with Democrat Terry McAuliffe, skipped the event in Glen Allen, which featured a number of speakers who repeated baseless charges about widespread election fraud.

“Glenn Youngkin is a great gentleman,” Trump said, in a brief interview with radio host John Fredericks, a former top Virginia Trump campaign official who organized the event. “We’ve got to get him in. I know Terry McAuliffe very well and he was a lousy governor,” said Trump, who donated $25,000 to McAuliffe during the Democrat’s first run for governor in 2009.

“Terry was a terrible governor and you have a chance to get one of the most successful business people in the country — and he did it in a quiet, professional way — in Glenn Youngkin,” Trump said.

“I hope Glenn gets in there and he’ll straighten out Virginia, he’ll lower taxes, do all of the things we want a governor to do. I really believe that Virginia is very, very winnable but everybody has to go out and vote.”

Among those who spoke or were expected to address the rally were: Winsome Sears, a Republican running against Democratic Del. Hala Ayala for lieutenant governor; former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon; Rep. Mark Finchem of Arizona, who has worked to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss; and state Sen. Amanda Chase, a prominent promoter of election fraud conspiracy theories.

Bannon cast doubt on the integrity of Virginia’s 2020 election, arguing that the close race between Youngkin and McAuliffe is proof that Democrat Joe Biden didn’t defeat Trump by 10 points.

Virginia election officials have defended the state’s election, backed by an audit earlier this year.

“He didn’t win by 10 points OK, no doubt about that,” Bannon said.

Bannon went to challenge Republicans to back Youngkin, saying that the race is about more than Virginia’s next governor, and rather the future of the GOP.

“To defeat McAuliffe is bigger than McAuliffe. It’ll shock them to the core,” Bannon said of Democrats. “They’ll go into a death spiral.”

Trump has given Fredericks a series of interviews in which he raised unfounded questions about the integrity of Virginia’s elections and warned Youngkin that he cannot beat McAuliffe unless he fully embraces Trump’s “MAGA” movement.

On Wednesday night Trump stuck to praise of Youngkin and criticized the direction of the country under Biden. “Our country is going to hell and it only took eight months,” Trump said.

Chase, who has been campaigning for Youngkin, also has made recent trips to Arizona and Texas, states undergoing “audits” of the 2020 election results. Chase said she is leading the call for a “full forensic audit” in Virginia.

Chase said Virginia can fix “these terrible vaccine mandates” and what she termed other ills if the state restores election integrity.

The senator has introduced photo ID legislation to “put the guardrails back on our elections.” She said Virginia needs to eliminate mail-in ballots, with few exceptions, such as military service. She said Virginia also must eliminate drop boxes and the 45-day early voting process.

“It shouldn’t be a season, because that just increases the possibility of fraud,” Chase said.

“We are going to do something about election integrity,” Chase said. “I know what’s going on. The Youngkin campaign knows what’s going on. We are watching like we never watched before.”

Youngkin, who in his primary campaign declined to say whether Biden was fairly elected, has since said he believes he was — and that he does not believe there was significant fraud last November.

Youngkin’s campaign did not respond to questions from The Associated Press on Wednesday about whether Youngkin expected Trump would campaign with him in the final stretch or why he chose not to attend Wednesday’s event, apart from pointing out the candidate’s busy travel schedule Wednesday.

In response to Trump’s comments Wednesday, Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, sought to tie Youngkin to Trump.

“Glenn Youngkin has made it clear: his top priority is bringing Donald Trump’s dangerous agenda to Virginia. As Youngkin focuses his campaign on peddling right-wing conspiracies and advancing an extreme policy agenda, he is making it clearer than ever that he is too extreme for Virginia. Both he and Donald Trump belong nowhere near the governorship.”

Former President Barack Obama will campaign with McAuliffe in Richmond on Oct. 23.

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

Information from Times-Dispatch staff writer Mel Leonor and The Associated Press was used in this report.