Four out of the seven Republicans running for governor in Virginia met Sunday in their first debate, covering topics ranging from education to law enforcement to the economy, with each promising to turn back liberal Democratic policies and end a GOP losing streak.
The event, sponsored by the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition and The Family Foundation of Virginia, was held at Life Church in Colonial Heights, less than two weeks before the state party's nominating convention on May 8.
Del. Kirk Cox said his three decades in the House of Delegates and his career as a public school teacher make him the most qualified candidate to lead the state and to be able to work from Day One to reverse what he called “bad Democratic policies” put in place since Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate two years ago.
“I don't want to see us become California,” he said.
Glenn Youngkin, the former co-chief executive of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, called himself “a political outsider” and said his business experience makes him the most qualified candidate to rebuild the state's economy and reinvigorate the state's education system after many schools were shuttered during during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can get things moving. I can get things done,” he said.
Youngkin sharply criticized a proposal being considered by the state Department of Education to eliminate advanced diplomas for high school students.
“Friends, our children should be allowed to be in the fast lane, not in the broken down lane,” Youngkin said.
“We must introduce competition now,” he added.
Peter Doran, a former think tank executive, said he has the strongest vision for making Virginia “the best” state in the country. Doran said if elected governor, he will completely phase out the state income tax. He also said he would eliminate the use of any public funds for abortion and make Virginia the first state in the country to provide paid bereavement leave to parents who suffer a miscarriage.
Cox said he was skeptical the legislature would agree to eliminate the state income tax.
“My political read is I don't see the votes there for that, and I want to get things done as governor,” he said.
Sergio de la Peña, a retired Army colonel, portrayed himself as a leader who could bring people together and draw Hispanics, Asians and other immigrants to the Republican party.
“I am that immigrant community,” he said.
He also promised to reopen the economy by reducing taxes, regulations and spending.
“As soon as I’m your governor, everything opens back up,” he said.
Three GOP candidates did not participate in the debate, including firebrand conservative state Sen. Amanda Chase, who said during a candidates' forum last week that she would be in Florida this weekend to seek the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Chase said on Facebook Sunday that she met Trump and got a “fist bump” from him. She did not mention an endorsement, but said she's meeting with Trump's chief of staff later.
Entrepreneur and marketing executive Pete Snyder, the founder and former chief executive officer of New Media Strategies, cited a previous engagement, while former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson declined an invitation to participate, said Lauren Fulcher, executive director of the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Republicans will choose their nominee at an unassembled convention next month, while Democrats will winnow their field in a June primary. The Democratic field includes former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Del. Lee Carter and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
Racial justice advocate Princess Blanding is making a third-party bid.
This story has been corrected to show that Princess Blanding is not running for the Democratic nomination, she’s making a third-party bid.