Associated Press

Republican gubernatorial candidate skips ‘Take Back Virginia Rally’ featuring Trump, Bannon and others

Donald Trump delivered remarks remotely to rally attendees, calling Republican nominee for governor Glenn Youngkin ‘a great gentleman,’ while rally goers were invited to pledge allegiance to a flag that purportedly had been carried at the Trump rally that immediately preceded the Capitol riot on Jan. 6

Terry McAuliffe, governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018 and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, gestures toward Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin during a September debate at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va.

AP/Steve Helber

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans tried to fire up the party’s right-wing base ahead of Virginia’s critical November elections Wednesday, at a rally marked by falsehoods about the 2020 election and tirades against vaccine and mask mandates.

The party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, did not attend the event but got a warm embrace from Trump, who called in by phone, to urge a crowd of a few hundred in suburban Richmond to get out to vote for the businessman and first-time candidate.

“Glenn Youngkin is a great gentleman,” said Trump, who had previously endorsed Youngkin, before he reiterated his long-running lie that that Democrat Joe Biden won the White House because of mass voter fraud.

Other speakers at the “Take Back Virginia Rally” included former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon; Rep. Mark Finchem of Arizona, who has worked to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss in the state; and Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, a prominent promoter of election fraud conspiracy theories. It was organized by conservative talk-show host John Fredericks, a former Trump campaign chairman in Virginia.

See: Steve Bannon faces contempt charge after defying Jan. 6 select committee’s subpoena

For a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance at the event, a flag was displayed on the stage that purportedly had been carried at the Trump rally preceding the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. “This,” tweeted Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee and the commonwealth’s governor from 2014 to 2018, “is not who we are as Virginians.”

McAuliffe on Thursday said the flag episode had been a game changer in the race, while Youngkin reportedly sought to distance himself from the incident, telling reporters at a campaign stop that he hadn’t been involved in the event.

Late Thursday his campaign put out a statement quoting Youngkin as saying, “It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6. As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong.”

The showcase of right-wing enthusiasm came as Youngkin and Democrat McAuliffe are locked in a tight race in Democratic-leaning Virginia, one of just two states with governor races this year. The Republican has focused his pitch at moderate and independent voters critical to success, but he also needs strong turnout among Trump followers.

That’s left Youngkin treading carefully when addressing the lies about fraud promoted by Trump and others in his party. The Republican, 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.

‘It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6.’

— Glenn Youngkin

Youngkin’s campaign did not respond to questions from the Associated Press on Wednesday whether he 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.

Earlier in the week, Youngkin called into Fredericks’s show and thanked him for hosting the event.

“We’re going to win this,” Fredericks said. “We’re gonna hold the Trump coalition together while Youngkin goes out there and appeals to independents.”

Democrats condemned the event and blasted Youngkin after Trump’s remarks.

“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,” said Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Democrats have also criticized Youngkin’s continued willingness to campaign with Chase. The state senator from suburban Richmond also sought the nomination for governor this year and routinely shares misinformation about the security of Virginia’s elections. Chase, who was censured by the Senate on a bipartisan basis earlier this year, has called for an “audit” of the 2020 election in Virginia and in December said Trump should invoke martial law to seize voting machines.
On Wednesday, she continued to focus on the false claims.

“We are going to do something about election integrity. And I know what’s going on, the Youngkin campaign knows what’s going on. We are watching like we have never watched before,” she told the crowd.

Trump lost Virginia overwhelmingly to Democrat Joe Biden last year — a routine state audit confirmed the results — and no election was stolen from Trump.

From the archives (November 2020): Trump says he’ll take election fight to Supreme Court as Biden maintains narrow lead

Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, found no evidence of widespread election corruption. Allegations of massive voting fraud also were dismissed by several judges and refuted by state election officials and an arm of the Homeland Security Department during the Trump administration.

The Youngkin campaign has tried to draw a comparison between the false claims of fraud today and the 2000 presidential election, when a Supreme Court ruling decided the winner and McAuliffe blasted the decision and said the election had been stolen.

Winsome Sears, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, did not speak as scheduled. Her campaign did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday night.

An initial advisory said Jason Miyares, the GOP nominee for attorney general, would attend. But his spokeswoman, Victoria LaCivita, said by phone that was “a mistake, a miscommunication.”

She added the candidate’s schedule was full, with a debate against incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring earlier in the day and an evening event elsewhere.
Del. Terry Kilgore and Sen. Bill Stanley were at various points advertised as speakers but said they had work commitments and did not attend.

eLesor contributed.