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Democrats pounce on GOP over rally featuring election conspiracies; McAuliffe ad links Youngkin and Trump
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Democrats pounce on GOP over rally featuring election conspiracies; McAuliffe ad links Youngkin and Trump

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Virginia Democrats are widely condemning a Republican election rally Wednesday in Henrico County that featured former President Donald Trump and unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, seizing on the event to urge voters to reject the GOP at the ballot.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who faces Republican Glenn Youngkin in the race for governor, on Thursday released a new TV ad featuring Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement of Youngkin at the Wednesday event. The ad will air statewide starting Friday.

Wednesday’s “Take Back Virginia” rally featured Trump, who called in for a short speech, and his former aide Steve Bannon. Trump, Bannon, and other speakers repeated disproved or unfounded claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

The Associated Press reported that participants at Wednesday’s event said the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag emcee Martha Boneta said was present at what she called the “peaceful” Jan. 6 rally with Trump in Washington before his supporters’ insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Youngkin did not attend Wednesday’s rally, which largely focused on electing him to office. The GOP nominee has sought the support of Trump-loyal GOP voters and said he would support Trump if he were the GOP nominee in 2024. But, Youngkin has also sought distance from the former president — who lost Virginia to Democrat Joe Biden by 10 points — frequently declining to mention him or his endorsement.

At a news conference Thursday in Richmond, Gov. Ralph Northam called Wednesday’s rally “truly disturbing.” Northam, who deployed the state police and National Guard to Washington on Jan. 6, said that false claims that participants in Wednesday’s rally made about the election threaten public safety and the country’s democracy.

“Mr. Youngkin, you need to make a choice: You can be part of our democratic institutions or you can try to destroy them,” Northam said.

In a statement Youngkin disavowed violence during the Jan. 6 rally.

“While I had no role in last night’s event, I have heard about it from many people in the media today. 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.”

Wednesday’s rally was organized by John Fredericks, a conservative radio host and former Trump campaign official in Virginia. Winsome Sears, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, was the only statewide GOP candidate to attend. Trump, a last-minute addition, called into the rally to urge Republicans to back Youngkin, and “the others” on the GOP ticket, calling Virginia “very, very winnable.”

“Glenn Youngkin is a great gentleman,” Trump said. “We’ve got to get him in. I know Terry McAuliffe very well and he was a lousy governor.”

Trump closed by repeating disproved claims that he won the 2020 presidential election, asserting that it was “the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”

Bannon cast doubt on the integrity of Virginia’s 2020 election, arguing that the close race between Youngkin and McAuliffe is proof that Biden did not defeat Trump by 10 points.

“He didn’t win by 10 points, OK, no doubt about that,” Bannon said.

Northam on Thursday called the claim “delusional,” pointing to an audit made public in March confirming the state’s election results.

Bannon could face criminal contempt charges for refusing to cooperate with a congressional inquiry led by Democrats into the Jan. 6 insurrection.

During the final gubernatorial debate, Youngkin said he didn’t believe there was “material fraud” in the 2020 election, which he said was “certifiably fair.” At the same time, Youngkin has run on plans to bring “election integrity” to Virginia, calling for a series of reforms to state’s election process.

Reached for comment, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement that it was McAuliffe who has cast doubt on an election, referring to comments the Democrat made during the 2000 election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

“McAuliffe will be campaigning in Virginia with Stacey Abrams, who falsely claimed her race was stolen,” she said, citing Georgia’s 2018 contest for governor.

“The McAuliffe-Abrams Election Denier Tour will feature the two of the three biggest election conspiracy theorists in the Democrat Party — the only one missing will be McAuliffe’s mentor Hillary Clinton.”

mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

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