GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin made a campaign stop Saturday at an “election integrity” rally in Lynchburg that his ticketmates opted not to attend, taking criticism from Democrats who said his appearance helped spread falsehoods about the 2020 election.
The two-day event at Liberty University hosted by the 5th Congressional District GOP was not open to the press.
While some Republicans are demanding what they describe as a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Virginia, there is no evidence of election fraud.
The Virginia Department of Elections said in March that a risk-limiting audit of the 2020 election confirmed Virginia’s election results accurately portrayed the winners.
Former President Donald Trump made baseless claims of election fraud that preceded the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, in which many protesters sought to overturn the results of the presidential race. The former president and many other Republicans have continued to question the legitimacy of the presidential election, even though it wasn’t close and there’s no evidence of any widespread fraud.
The website for the rally had listed as featured guests Youngkin, Del. Jason Miyares, the GOP nominee for attorney general, and Winsome Sears, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. But Miyares and Sears opted to attend an event with a Northern Virginia candidate instead.
“Glenn, Terry McAuliffe called on you to step down from this dangerous rally and you didn’t — even as the other extreme members of the GOP ticket removed themselves,” Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Friday in a call with the press.
“Just this week, we learned that Youngkin suggested the courts could reinstate Trump into office — further pedaling the GOP’s dangerous lies just three months from the November gubernatorial election.
Youngkin also made campaign stops Saturday in Lexington and with police and first responders in Rockingham County and Staunton, tweeting photos from all three events. The Youngkin campaign did not promote his attendance at the Liberty event on social media.
Asked why Youngkin wanted to attend the event, spokeswoman Macaulay Porter didn’t answer but issued a statement attacking Democratic nominee McAuliffe.
“As a homegrown Virginian, Glenn Youngkin has been clear from day one that his number one priority as governor will be building a rip-roaring economy in the Commonwealth,” the statement said.
Leslie Caughell, associate professor of political science at Virginia Wesleyan University, said conspiracy theories have existed in the United States since its founding and data has shown many people believe them.
But in politics now, “mainstream politicians are courting them and mainstream politicians are using them,” she said.
Youngkin is sending a message through a nod, she said.
“He knows that Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 percentage points,” Caughell said. “And I think what we’re seeing is, as long as the Republican Party as a whole is kind of looking to former President Trump as their leader and keeps playing with this ‘big lie’ stuff … people who know better feel like, ‘Well in order to get the support of the Republican base I have to at least turn the other way.’ ”
When a Republican voter asked Youngkin recently about Trump possibly being reinstated to the White House by a court, Youngkin could have told her that’s impossible, Caughell said. She contrasted his decision not to with the time in the 2008 presidential race when a Republican voter told GOP nominee John McCain that Barack Obama was a Muslim, and McCain corrected her.
Youngkin’s strategy, she said, is “I can wink at them and let them know that I understand what they’re saying.”
Two of the panelists presenting information at the rally, according to its schedule, were Phill Kline and Tim Griffin.
Kline is a former Kansas attorney general whose law license was suspended indefinitely by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2013 over what the court found was a pattern of misconduct. He is an associate professor of law at Liberty University and has assisted in lawsuits challenging the results of the presidential election, the Kansas Reflector reported.
Griffin, of Bedford, is a special counsel to the Thomas More Society and former assistant commonwealth’s attorney. Kline directs a project of the Thomas More Society involved in lawsuits over the election.
Kline recently interviewed Griffin in a video posted on Kline’s YouTube channel.
“People are saying this election was stolen,” Griffin said during the interview. “They understand that something was off.”
Kline asked Griffin what was different about the 2020 election than previous elections. Griffin said he assessed the 2020 election by observing people he came into contact with.
“Years ago I used to really pay a lot of attention just to polls and what newspapers would tell us. In recent elections I really pay attention to what’s going on on the ground,” Griffin said.
He continued, saying that in the 2020 election, “I kept my eyes open, I kept my ears open. ... Republicans on the right — they were so excited. There was a parade in Arizona … of 90 miles long of cars for Donald Trump. And then we also watched what the energy was on the left. And the energy on the left was very deflated. There wasn’t a lot of excitement. There was no rallies for President Joe Biden.”
The Democratic presidential ticket largely avoided rallies because of the COVID-19 pandemic.