Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin is focusing the final weeks of his campaign on "election integrity," a trope Republicans around the country have seized on to justify draconian new voting restrictions.
Youngkin is the former CEO of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group and has poured millions into his own campaign, and throughout the race has tried to walk a fine line to shore up support among the right-wing Republican base without alienating the more moderate independent and suburban voters he needs to win the increasingly blue state. Youngkin received former President Trump's "complete and total endorsement" in the race but has tried to distance himself from the former president and his politics after Trump lost the state by over 10 points.
The millionaire has acknowledged that President Joe beat Trump "legitimately," but only after months of ducking the question during the Republican primary. The political novice at first tried to move away from his focus on "election integrity" after his primary victory, but with his race against former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe in a dead heat in its home stretch, Youngkin is now renewing his calls for a voting machine audit and poll watchers, in an evident signal to election conspiracy theorists.
"I think we need to make sure that people trust these voting machines. And I just think, I grew up in a world where you have an audit every year, in businesses you have an audit," Youngkin said in a speech in Richmond on Monday. "So let's just audit the voting machines, publish it so everybody can see it."
Trump's PAC soon blasted out an email to his supporters, touting Youngkin's call amid the former president's fear-mongering that Democrats may "cheat" in the Virginia election, a claim Youngkin himself went out of his way to refute.
Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, one of that state's most prominent election conspiracists, who is pushing to decertify the presidential results, touted Youngkin's call for a voting machine audit while lamenting that Virginia lawmakers have not joined her effort to "Audit All 50 States."
"Kudos to Governor Candidate Glenn Youngkin for calling for an audit of the machines," she tweeted.
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Youngkin's call came just weeks after he acknowledged in his first debate against McAuliffe that there was no "significant fraud in Virginia elections." Youngkin allies, like Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase, have been pushing for a "forensic audit" of the Virginia election similar to the discredited audit in Arizona's Maricopa County, which found slightly more votes for Biden than were recorded initially.
Youngkin has blamed McAuliffe for trying to "make a word, election integrity, some bad word."
"As Glenn Youngkin said in February, he believes audits are a best practice when it comes to administering elections — just as audits are a routine best practice in the business world — and he will ensure Virginia continues to conduct audits going forward and that they are thorough, efficient, and accurate," Youngkin spokesperson Matt Wolking said in a statement to Salon. "Glenn has been clear about his view of the 2020 election and nothing has changed. Obviously Terry McAuliffe opposes requiring a photo ID to vote, but if he does not support routine audits, updating the voter rolls regularly, verifying mail-in ballots and other election best practices identified by bipartisan experts, he should be clear with Virginians about where he stands."
Virginia law already requires an annual audit of voting machines and McAuliffe himself approved the procedures for the process during his previous term as governor, and says he still supports them. The state's routine audit of the 2020 election confirmed that its results were accurate.
Youngkin has also called for other measures backed by Trump's allies. He attended an "election integrity" rally in August and has called for stricter voter ID laws and poll watchers, which voting rights groups have said is a tactic aimed at suppressing and intimidating voters of color.
And Youngkin has increasingly embraced conspiracy theorists like Chase, appearing with her at multiple rallies last week.
"The single most important thing we can do to protect election integrity in Virginia is to get Glenn Youngkin elected as our next governor," Chase said at an Oct. 4 rally.
Chase, who was one of the candidates Youngkin defeated in the primary, has since become a surrogate for his campaign. She has traveled to Arizona to review that state's GOP-sponsored audit and has dismissed the Virginia Board of Elections' annual audit results.
"It's important that we audit Virginia. It's important we have a forensic audit, not the faux audit that the State Board of Elections did," Chase said during a rally in August.
Chase, who infamously dubbed herself "Trump in heels," has also defended the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters and praised them as "patriots," earning a censure by the state Senate. She previously suggested after last November's election that Trump "should declare martial law" and "go and seize these [voting] machines and voting equipment to find the voter fraud."
Last Monday's rally with Youngkin and Chase also featured Wren Williams, who said he "had a blast" with the Republican candidate. Williams served on Trump's legal team that challenged election results in Wisconsin, where the campaign ultimately paid for a recount that only added votes to Biden's lead. Williams has continued to claim that Biden's win was illegitimate, although he has offered no evidence of widespread fraud. Williams won the Republican primary for a Virginia House of Delegates seat earlier this year, defeating 14-year incumbent Charles Poindexter earlier this year after saying that sitting Republicans weren't doing anything — squat, diddly," to contest the election results.
Asked about Youngkin's association with election conspiracists, the Youngkin campaign cited McAuliffe's ties to Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly called Trump an "illegitimate president," and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who refused to concede her 2018 defeat to Gov. Brian Kemp.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, has already rolled out new ads linking Youngkin's call for an audit to Trump's election lies.
"Glenn Youngkin is calling for audits of Virginia's voting machines for the same reason he based his entire campaign on his 'election integrity task force' — this is who he is," Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "Youngkin thinks this is 'the most important issue' because his top priority is bringing Donald Trump's agenda to Virginia."