Terry McAuliffe Employs Debunked Attacks Against GOP Opponent

Criticism from Washington Post, PolitiFact has not stopped Virginia Dem from repeating false claims

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D.) / Getty Images
September 16, 2021

Scathing media fact checks have not stopped Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe from employing debunked attacks against GOP opponent Glenn Youngkin.

The Washington Post, whose editorial board has endorsed McAuliffe, in June admonished the Democrat for his false claim that he "inherited the largest budget deficit in the history of the state from the Republicans." PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that receives funds from liberal sources, also dinged McAuliffe in both 2015 and 2019 for the bogus assertion. Still, the Democrat in September said he "inherited a $2.4 billion deficit from the Republicans" and told a local reporter who pushed back on the claim to "do your research."

The Post on Tuesday also criticized McAuliffe for his false claim that Youngkin "wants to ban abortion," noting that the Republican supports abortion legislation that is "more restrictive than current Virginia law" but has not backed an outright ban. McAuliffe hours later told members of powerful abortion group NARAL that Youngkin "is extreme and he will ban abortions." The Democrat has also pushed forward with Facebook ads that call Youngkin "a right-wing culture warrior who wants to ban abortion in the Commonwealth."

The Virginia GOP has responded to McAuliffe's "repeated lies" by labeling the Democrat "Two-Faced Terry," a moniker that could stick if McAuliffe repeats the debunked attacks during the campaign's first general election debate, which will take place Thursday night.

The McAuliffe campaign did not return a request for comment.

While McAuliffe often says he inherited a budget deficit from Republicans when he became governor in 2014, Virginia's constitution calls for a balanced budget, a requirement former GOP governor Bob McDonnell fulfilled before he left office. The Post rated McAuliffe's claim "Four Pinocchios."

But that was not the first time McAuliffe faced pushback on his deficit rhetoric. PolitiFact has repeatedly criticized the claim, including in 2019, when the fact-checking site called it "just wrong." Four years earlier, McAuliffe's spokesman acknowledged that his boss lied about the "inherited deficit," saying the Democrat had a "slip of the tongue."

"Well, McAuliffe's tongue has been slipping a lot lately," the Post wrote in June. "He has ventured into recidivism."

McAuliffe's false abortion claim stems from a secretly recorded conversation in which Youngkin pledged to "start going on offense" on the issue if he is elected governor. McAuliffe's campaign ran ads that use the recording to say Youngkin would ban abortion. While the ads cite a Post article as their source, the article does not state that Youngkin would ban abortion.

A Washington Free Beacon review of McAuliffe's Facebook spending shows that the Democrat is still running five ads that accuse Youngkin of supporting an abortion ban. According to Facebook's summary data, more Californians have viewed the ads than Virginians, suggesting that McAuliffe is using the debunked claim to attract donations from national liberals.

While President Joe Biden won Virginia by more than 10 points, a September Emerson poll found that McAuliffe leads Youngkin by just 4 points. The pair will participate in the debate Thursday.