Skip To Content

    The Virginia Governor Race Is Surprisingly Tight – Here's Where The Major Candidates Stand On Key Issues

    From healthcare to racial inequality to taxes.

    This year's Virginia governor race is surprisingly tight, given the state's normally steadfast blue-ness these days. It's also getting an abnormal amount of press coverage because the result of the race might set the tone for 2022 and 2024.

    If you need to make a plan to vote, click here!

    Here are where the two leading candidates – Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin – stand on the big issues.

    McAuliffe and Youngkin in a debate
    Win McNamee / Getty Images

    McAuliffe was Governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018 (Virginia does not allow consecutive terms). Youngkin is the former co-CEO of private-equity firm The Carlyle Group.

    1. Abortion

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: McAuliffe plans to "enshrine Roe v. Wade in Virginia’s constitution and increase access to contraceptive care."

    He also tweeted, "Last time I was governor, I was proud to be a brick wall against right-wing attacks on abortion rights. You have my word: I will never stop fighting for your right to choose."

    McAuliffe does not support abortions past 25 weeks in situations without medical conditions. However, during a debate, he expressed his support for loosening a requirement that three doctors sign off on third-trimester abortions. He said it was an issue of fairness for rural women.


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: "Glenn is pro life and supports exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger," says a spokesperson for Youngkin.

    The spokesperson also said, "Glenn Youngkin supports funding for women’s health centers but does not support tax payer funded abortions. Glenn opposes Governor Northam’s repeal of the law put in place by Governor Bob McDonnell 10 years ago to protect Virginia taxpayers from being forced to support abortions."

    In a debate, Youngkin said he would not have signed the Texas abortion law, but he indicated that he would support a "pain threshold bill.”

    2. COVID-19

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: He wants to "immediately launch a 'Virginia is for Vaccine Lovers' campaign, urge local school divisions to require vaccines for their personnel, and work to ensure health systems and nursing homes follow federal vaccine requirements."

    Also, he plans to "leverage federal funds to incentivize businesses to mandate vaccinations for employees and host mobile vaccine clinics," "increase worker and consumer confidence in businesses by creating a voluntary COVID-safety compliance certification," "ensure every Virginian has access to paid sick leave, and, "keep schools safely open by urging all school divisions to require vaccines for all school personnel."


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: In terms of vaccination, Youngkin said, "I have been a strong, strong advocate for everyone to get the vaccine. I do believe that individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own."

    He stated that while he supports the vaccine, he does not support vaccination mandates or statewide school mask mandates.

    In addition, his website states his "Day One" plan for if he is elected, which mentions desires for "Keeping Virginia Open and Protecting Lives & Livelihoods" and "Keeping Schools Open Safely Five Days a Week." However, neither of the contexts for these quotes specifically mention COVID-19.

    3. Climate Change

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: He tweeted that "climate change is real and it's caused by humans."

    He plans to "accelerate Virginia’s path to 100% clean energy by 2035 and ensure a just transition that protects communities that have been impacted the most."

    In addition, McAuliffe wants to "restructure Virginia’s regulatory system to protect consumers and incentivize the transition to 100% clean energy," "reduce energy consumption by investing dramatically in energy efficiency," "expand clean energy jobs and build the workforce needed to supply the clean economy with highly qualified, skilled workers," and, "equitably improve access to clean public transportation, electric vehicles, and EV-charging infrastructure."


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: When asked if the actions of humans are responsible for climate change, Youngkin said, "I don't know what's responsible for climate change." He also said that "all living beings, all living things have some role."

    He plans on "Completing Long-Delayed Environmental Projects." Youngkin also wants to create an independent committee to help Hampton Roads, an area of Virginia heavily affected by rising sea levels.

    4. Confederate Monuments

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: McAuliffe says that he would "like to see all symbols of hate and division removed."

    In 2015, when he was Governor, McAuliffe defended Confederate statues and said they were part of Virginia's heritage. He recently called them offensive and proposed they all be taken down.

    As Governor, McAuliffe banned the Confederate flag from Virginia license plates.


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: Youngkin believes the decisions on what to do with Confederate monuments should be "left to localities," also saying, "There shouldn't be a single individual that makes these decisions."

    He also said, "I do believe these statues should be placed in museums or on battlefields so we do not forget our history...we cannot airbrush away our history."

    5. Economy, Taxes, and Business Regulations

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: According to McAuliffe's campaign website, he plans to "pilot Virginia’s first-ever intentional economic development hub, deploying high-impact investments in a span of neighboring rural jurisdictions to drive sustainable economic growth."

    He also plans to "create a revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans to small businesses," "rebuild small businesses, particularly Black- and Brown-owned businesses that have closed at disproportionate rates," "address pay disparities and ensure that every Virginian has access to paid sick, family and medical leave," "create a cabinet-level advisory to develop and implement a statewide strategic plan to support and grow entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems," "eliminate barriers and regulations that make it harder for businesses to get started and thrive," and, "support backbone organizations that drive entrepreneurship and improve access to capital with new state, local, and private investments."

    McAuliffe wishes to "raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024."


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: According to his campaign website, "Glenn will cut exploding costs for families and relieve the burdens of inflation and taxes. He will cut regulations to create jobs and make it easier for innovators and entrepreneurs to get small businesses moving again."

    He wants to "create 400,000 jobs." He also plans to "[Eliminate] Virginia’s Grocery Tax & Suspending the Recent Gas Tax Hike for 12 Months," "[Provide] a One Time Tax Rebate of $600 for Joint Filers and $300 for Individuals, "[End] Runaway Property Taxes by Requiring Voter Approval for Increases," "[Cut] Income Taxes by Doubling the Standard Deduction & Cutting Taxes on Veteran Retirement Pay," "[Reinvigorate] Small Business by Enacting a Small Business Tax Holiday & Ending the Tax on Rebuild VA and PPP Loans," "[Cut] Job Killing Regulations by 25%," and, "[Launch] #JumpstartJobs to Develop Talent, Train Workers, Attract Investment, & Make Virginia the Easiest State to Start a Business." He also wants to fix (his word) the Virginia Employment Commission.

    Youngkin does not support raising the minimum wage to $15.

    6. Education

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: McAuliffe wants to "create a seamless 5-year pathway from K-12 to career, and expand work-based learning opportunities for students."

    He also wants to "ensure the more than 41,000 3 and 4-year-olds in need get access to pre-k," "get every student online by making a $75 million per year investment in broadband to expand access and lower monthly costs," "address modern-day segregation in schools and create an Education Equity and Innovation Commission, Fund, and a school integration officer," "make Virginia the best state in the nation for STEM-H and computer science education by integrating these skills and principles across grade levels and subject areas," "promote career readiness with investments in Career and Technical Education and building internships and apprenticeships into curricula," and, "pay educators what they deserve and raise teacher pay above the national average for the first time in Virginia’s history," as well as "invest in Virginia’s crumbling school infrastructure." He said that "not one penny of money will ever be taken from our public schools" to put in charter schools.

    In relation to STEM-H and computer science education, McAuliffe wants to "tackle the digital equity gap by ensuring students have computing devices at home and building a strong foundation of access to knowledge, skills, and resources," "integrate STEM-H and computer science principles and skills into all subjects and grade levels in K-12 schools," "equip educators with the knowledge and skills they need to understand and teach these principles, and foster inclusive learning environments," and "cultivate public-private partnerships to advance STEM-H and computer science literacy, build the workforce of the future, and attract high-paying jobs to every corner of the Commonwealth."

    When it comes to post-high school education, McAuliffe wants to "strengthen community colleges and associate degree programs by funding advisors and support services, increasing short-term immersion programs and stacking credentials, and establishing Career and Technical Education certificate programs for educators." He also wants to "promote affordability and flexibility in higher education, making it easier for students to make the transitions to higher education, between institutions, and from education to the workforce," "streamline financial aid to better address student needs and expand programs that ensure that students are able to benefit from higher education," "build new, affordable pathways into the workforce that reduce burdens placed on students and allow students to choose the option that best fits their needs." In addition, "in order to ensure institutions of higher education can be more responsive to workforce needs, Terry will build capacity at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to more quickly approve programs and get students into high-demand education pipelines like nursing, teaching, and more."

    McAuliffe said that he supports a policy allowing transgender and nonbinary Virginia public school students to use their preferred pronouns, the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, and to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity. He also wants to "pass an anti-bullying law to protect LGBTQ+ youth."


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: Youngkin wants to "make sure every student graduates career or college ready" and to "restore our high standards for schools and our students, ban critical race theory, invest in our teachers and schools, and empower parents with real choices."

    More specifically, he wants to "[Keep] Schools Open Safely Five Days a Week," "[Restore] High Expectations & Getting Every Student College or Career Ready," "[Rid] Political Agendas from the Classroom by Banning Critical Race Theory," "[Rebuild] Crumbling Schools, Raising Teacher Pay, & Investing in Special Education Programs," and "[Create] at least 20 New Innovation Charter Schools across the K-12 Spectrum to Provide Choice."

    He supported a teacher who was fired for refusing to call a student by their preferred pronouns, saying that the school board "ignore[d] and absolutely trample[d] on" the teacher's "constitutional rights to express not only his religious beliefs, but also his right to free speech."

    Youngkin once said, "Biological males should not be allowed to play sports in girls sports. It's just not fair." Similarly, when asked what he thinks of a policy that allows a transgender girl in a Virginia public school to play on a girl's basketball team, Youngkin said, "I don't think they should [be allowed]." He said that government should not be involved in these decisions.

    7. Gun Control

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: McAuliffe plans to "ban the sale of assault weapons, and get high-capacity magazines, and 'ghost guns' off our streets."

    Also, he plans to "strengthen Virginia’s new background check law to include all firearm transfers," "disarm hate by preventing people who have committed hate crimes from owning firearms," prohibit open carry of firearms in certain public spaces and give localities the flexibility to ban open carry more broadly when there are credible public safety threats,' and, 'create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention to identify and coordinate solutions to gun violence across state agencies."


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: Youngkin said, "I’m a gun owner, I’m a lifetime member of the NRA, and I understand what it means to protect our right – our right – to keep and bear arms. And as governor, I will defend that right with every legal capacity that I have. Because guess what? I so fundamentally disagree with Joe Biden — these Amendments are absolute, and we can't pick and choose our way through 'em."

    8. Healthcare (Outside of Abortion and COVID-19)

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: He plans to "implement a state reinsurance program to lower premiums and increase assistance for Virginians who can’t afford their premiums."

    McAuliffe also plans to "combat maternal mortality rates for Black women by expanding home visiting services, access to quality care, ensuring access to lactation support, and mandating mental health screenings," "enshrine Roe v. Wade in Virginia’s constitution and increase access to contraceptive care," "lower prescription drug costs by passing a Prescription Drug Sunlight Law, setting price limits on certain drugs, and holding big Pharma accountable," "increase funding for mental health and substance use disorder treatment," "create a Prescription Drug Accountability Division at the State Corporation Commission and empower them to serve as a watchdog for consumers and set upper price limits for certain drugs," "hold Big Pharma accountable when they engage in predatory practices or impose unjustifiable price hikes," "maximize Virginia’s ability to negotiate for the best drug prices by pooling purchasing power and exploring bulk purchasing options," and, "impose substantial taxes on companies for unjustified price hikes."


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: He plans to "rescue our failing mental health system."

    The only specific I see mentioned on his website is Youngkin's plan to "[Fix] Our Broken Mental Health System."

    9. LGBTQ+ Rights

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: McAuliffe supports same-sex marriage.

    He plans to "leverage data collection to better support LGBTQ+ communities and effectively direct resources to end disparities," "improve identification and enforcement of hate crimes," "repeal Virginia’s 'conscience clause' to open up foster care and adoption to LGBTQ+ people, and pass an anti-bullying law to protect LGBTQ+ youth," "address housing instability with permanent supportive housing and invest in inclusive shelters that meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community," and, "require health care and public safety professionals to receive cultural competency training and establish a statewide social determinants of health coordinator."

    As I mentioned earlier, McAuliffe said that he supports a policy allowing transgender and nonbinary Virginia public school students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, and to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

    His actions as governor from 2014 to 2018 fit with the school of thoughts above.


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: 

    As far as I can tell, Youngkin has not stated whether he supports same-sex marriage.

    He expressed his support for religious exemption laws that allow a license to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community on religious grounds.

    As I mentioned earlier, he supported a teacher who was fired for refusing to call a student by their preferred pronouns, saying that the school board "ignore[d] and absolutely trample[d] on" the teacher's "constitutional rights to express not only his religious beliefs, but also his right to free speech."

    Youngkin once said, "Biological males should not be allowed to play sports in girls sports. It's just not fair." Similarly, when asked what he thinks of a policy that allows a transgender girl in a Virginia public school to play on a girl's basketball team, Youngkin said, "I don't think they should [be allowed]." He said that government should not be involved in these decisions.

    10. Racial Inequality

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: He wants to "address racial health disparities by lowering premiums, promoting health literacy, diversifying the health care workforce, and combating maternal mortality."

    McAuliffe also wants to "rebuild trust between communities and public safety agencies by increasing accountability for and transparency of serious misconduct," "build Black wealth by increasing the minimum wage and eliminating racial pay gaps, promoting homeownership, investing in Black businesses, and promoting ownership in the new cannabis industry," "protect Black LGBTQ+ Virginians by improving identification, reporting, and enforcement of hate crimes," and "advance civil rights by enshrining the automatic restoration of voting rights in our constitution and creating more opportunities for Black communities to vote."

    He does not support defunding the police.


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: The section of Youngkin's official website dedicated to his "game plan" only mentions race in the context of his desire to ban critical race theory.

    "He will defend — not defund — our law enforcement heroes," and Youngkin plans on "Fully Funding Law Enforcement & Protecting Qualified Immunity for our Law Enforcement Heroes," according to his website.

    11. Voting Rights

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: He plans on "work[ing] with the Democratic legislature to pass a second resolution and Virginia voters to secure approval for a constitutional amendment enshrining the automatic restoration of rights in Virginia’s constitution."

    His website also states that he plans on "[advancing] civil rights by enshrining the automatic restoration of voting rights in our constitution and creating more opportunities for Black communities to vote."

    When he was governor, McAuliffe reported that he restored voting rights to 156,000 people. He did this by signing thousands of orders individually because the state Supreme Court blocked an executive order.


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: He plans on "Restoring Photo ID Laws & Making it Easy to Vote and Hard to Cheat."

    Youngkin's website includes an "Election Integrity Task Force," which is "a group of concerned, law-abiding citizens who are working with Glenn Youngkin to ensure free and fair elections in Virginia." The page also says, "As governor, Glenn will ensure every legal vote is counted quickly and accurately. We can trust Glenn to rebuild Virginia and restore Americans’ faith in our election process."

    His website also includes an option to sign up to become a "poll watcher."

    12. Women's Rights (Outside of Abortion)

    Terry McAuliffe, Democrat: According to McAuliffe's official website, "As Virginia’s next Governor, Terry will make it easier for Virginia women to enter the workforce, start new businesses, and remain in quality, good-paying jobs."

    He also plans to "combat maternal mortality rates for Black women by expanding home visiting services, access to quality care, ensuring access to lactation support, and mandating mental health screenings."

    On the "Supporting Women in the Workforce" section of McAuliffe's campaign's website, it states that he wants to "keep schools safely open by urging all school divisions to require vaccines for all school personnel," "ensure that every Virginian has access to paid sick, family, and medical leave and raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024," "expand pre-K to more than 40,000 3- and 4-year-olds in need," "make child care more affordable by continuing subsidies and COVID-era flexibilities for women seeking work, and expand access to before and after school programs that address learning loss for kids and allow parents to stay in the workforce," "create a revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans to small businesses and provide technical assistance to grow strong women-owned businesses," and, "drive more young girls and women into good-paying jobs of the future by making Virginia the best state in the nation for STEM-H and computer science education." 

    As far as I can tell, there is no mention on his website of equal pay, sexual harassment, sexual assault, women's safety in general, or the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).


    Glenn Youngkin, Republican: The "Home," "Meet Glenn," and "Glenn's Day One Game Plan" sections of Youngkin's website do not include the words "woman," "women," "girl," or "girls." 

    The list of coalitions for Glenn Youngkin on his campaign's website includes "Women for Glenn Youngkin." While the symbols for most of the coalitions are predominantly blue, with one predominantly green ("Farmers for Glenn Youngkin") and one predominantly black ("Law Enforcement for Glenn Youngkin"), "Women for Glenn Youngkin" is hot pink, and "women for" is written in a font I can only describe as frilly. "Women for Glenn Youngkin" is also the only page with links for contacting "directly," which not only include a way to email, but also a link to "follow us on Pinterest" and a link to "go to photo album." Youngkin also has a coalition called "Sportsmen for Glenn Youngkin."

    As far as I can tell, there is no mention on his website of equal pay, sexual harassment, sexual assault, women's safety in general, or the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

    If you are a Virginia resident and you need to make a plan to vote, click here!