Tonight is the night. Welcome to the only debate of the Virginia gubernatorial contest.
If you would like to watch the debate without all the associated nonsense from political commentators? C-SPAN is your go-to resource for all things in every season. You can watch the debate at 7:00pm EST just by clicking here and pouring yourself three fingers of delicious scotch.
Or the entire bottle.
Of course, if you’re the sort of person who needs a little something extra to do while drinking alone? I invite you to play TRS DEBATE NIGHT BINGO!
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By free shot? I mean just drink.
Some things to watch for tonight?
The objective in any debate is not to lose. Which of course means you don’t have to win the debate either — no gaffes, no moments. Keep your opponent on his back foot and respect the distance.
For McAuliffe, it will be not to let hubris get the best of him. McAuliffe is most likely going to assume that Youngkin is going to be the classic Carlyle CEO rather than the professional politicians looking to trade shots. That means McAuliffe is going to hammer away at Trump, force Youngkin to take a stand on abortion and the Second Amendment, and perhaps throw in a few comparisons to Mitt Romney and Bain Capital…
For Youngkin, it will be to simply not to be Terry McAuliffe. Challengers require two things to defeat an incumbent — a reason to hire the challenger and a reason to fire the incumbent. Defunding the police, Critical Race Theory, mask mandates and government shutdowns all feed a Republican narrative, but what is Youngkin really going to do differently than the flamboyant hustler to his opposite?
Statues are going to matter. McAuliffe would be a fool not to press Youngkin on this knowing that most Virginians would prefer they have remained, but Youngkin’s appeal to the suburban center may not want to hear.
Defunding the police is DEFINITELY going to matter. McAuliffe pointing to his record? It’s broken, you ding-dong. Losing your temper over it at the Virginia Sheriffs Association luncheon? PRICELESS.
For bean counters and note takers, Virginia gubernatorial polling shows Youngkin on the wrong side of the margin of error — putting this race into Warner/Gillespie ‘14 territory but not quite into the Allen/Terry ‘93 trajectory for victory.
Don’t lean into the WPA Youngkin internal polling too much. For starters, it’s an internal poll. Second, most of the lift is entirely by way of disgust over Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. Third and perhaps most alarming? Virginia Democrats have a cash on hand advantage of 2:1 at present. More than enough money to pour on any embers that resemble victory.
The good news though? Fear not — we are running against Democrats.
Youngkin does have an opportunity here to land a KO punch on any variety of fronts. This is the night to draw the contrast between calm and crazy, between defending and defunding, between hope and fear. If Youngkin can sell Virginians on his sincerity and his strengths while keeping McAuliffe off center? Stranger things have happened in pugilism and politics.
Pro-tip? Insiders know there is precisely one issue that McAuliffe doesn’t want to run this campaign upon — and if Youngkin can touch on that bruise, this could end up to be a fun night.
If T-Mac wants to be the Walter Mondale to Youngkin’s Reagan? Let’s get the party started.
For myself, I am looking for the answer to precisely one question:
What is Glenn Youngkin willing to bleed for? It’s not the grocery tax. Give me something that shows me who Glenn Youngkin is and what Glenn values at core. Show me you what you are willing to take criticism for that is concrete, tangible and real. No one likes Terry — show me how Jack Kemp conservatism is going to get the reboot only Glenn Youngkin can give.
And that’s really what this might come down to folks.
Either way, tonight is going to give people a lot of answers. This political wonk is looking forward to it.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.