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WATCH: Gubernatorial candidates face off in Virginia debate

See the livestreams for the debate and analysis
McAuliffe and Youngkin
McAuliffe and Youngkin
Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:18 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - EARLIER STORY: Thursday night, candidates in the race for governor will face off in their first debate of the campaign.

According to WDBJ7′s political analyst and Virginia Tech professor, Dr. Bob Denton, this debate is likely to get heated fast. As this is the first time Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe have publicly gone head to head, each one has a lot to prove to Virginians.

With less than two months until the Commonwealth heads to the polls, the governor’s race is about to take a major step forward as both candidates battle it out on the debate stage for the first time this campaign season.

“Both campaigns understand, especially with no one over 50%, how important this could be, a pivotal moment of the campaign.”

GOP nominee Youngkin and McAuliffe have hit the campaign trails hard over the last three months targeting their respective bases. However, Denton said debates are a chance for candidates to reach undecided voters.

“And so they both have an opportunity in this debate,” he explained. “They need to be careful with no gaffs; they need to really hit those particular issues, and certainly aim, not only at their base but also at the undecided.”

Denton said one thing he’ll be watching closely during the debate is what strategies the candidates employ.

“How much attack versus issues; what is aimed at independents versus perhaps the core or the base,” Denton said. “That gives you a hint as to where candidates think their weaknesses may be.”

And as the race heats up the closer Virginia gets to election day, Denton said voters can expect more national attention, more political advertising and more attacks on their opponents. However, all of that only matters if people actually show up to the polls on November 2nd.

“It’s all right now about turn out and not just general turn out,” he said. “Certainly Republicans can turn out at 92-93% self-identified, but that’s still not enough to win and counter Northern Virginia. So not only is it about turn out, it’s about where’s the turn out, where’s the enthusiasm? And I actually think this could be a 3-5% race.”

McAuliffe and Youngkin will meet at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy Thursday night. You can watch it at 7 p.m. on WZBJ24, WDBJ7.com or WDBJ7 Facebook.

This is likely only first of two debates between the candidates before election night. The second is later this month in northern Virginia.

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