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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske June 30, 2021

Correction, June 30: When PolitiFact Virginia initially published this report on June 29, we failed to include comments Youngkin made outside of an U.S. Export-Import Bank conference that were on similar topics, because in our reporting process, we failed to reach out to the McAuliffe campaign. This goes against our reporting standards, which require us to contact political campaigns that we write about. We’ve corrected that omission in this report and apologize for the error.  

Once and possible future Gov. Terry McAuliffe says in a web ad that his opponent this year, Republican Glenn Youngkin, was a "big fan" of McAuliffe’s governorship from 2014 to 2018.

The ad seeks to refute a major theme in Youngkin’s campaign: That Democratic governors during the last eight years - McAuliffe and his successor, Ralph Northam - have driven Virginia’s economy "in the ditch."

The 39-second spot shows recent footage of Youngkin criticizing Virginia’s economy. Then it switches to video of three seemingly flattering statements Youngkin made about Virginia on April 7, 2017, at a U.S. Export-Import Bank conference. Youngkin moderated a discussion about the global economy and trade, and McAuliffe - then governor - was a panelist. Here’s the script:

Narrator: "Glenn Youngkin is relying on an old political playbook: trash your opponent and try to scare the public into liking you."
Youngkin: "I’m having a Virginia crisis because our commonwealth is in the ditch."

Narrator: "But before he ran for office, he was a big fan of Terry McAuliffe and his record as Governor. Here’s one example:"
Youngkin: "Here, we have one out of fifty states that’s doing very well, and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Narrator: "Here’s another:"
Youngkin: "If you want to put a new plant down, that’s the place to put it."

Narrator: "And one more time."
Youngkin: "Governor, I’m going to come back to the role you played in developing Virginia’s economy. How do you do it?"

Narrator: "Come on, Glenn."


The ad edits and alters Youngkin’s sentences and, in instances, presents them without context. On the other hand, there are a few statements Youngkin made in 2020 that are not part of the ad, but acknowledge large parts of the state’s economy have been growing and doing pretty well.

Let’s examine the ad’s quotes from Youngkin. 

"Here we have one out of fifty states that’s doing very well, and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Youngkin was not necessarily offering his personal opinion here; he was summarizing remarks made by his four-member panel (which, again, included McAuliffe). Here’s Youngkin’s full quote:

"What we’ve said, just to summarize a little bit, is while not 100% agreeing that we’re in a full recovery, I think there’s a general sense of the US economy doing okay, and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Here we have one out of 50 states that's doing very well and has really shown great strides."

"Governor, I’m going to come back to the role you played in developing Virginia’s economy. How do you do it?"

The quote seems adulating, but critical words were cut. In context, Youngkin was asking McAuliffe to explain how he goes about recruiting foreign businesses to Virginia. Here’s the full quote:

"Governor, I’m going to come back to the role you’ve played in developing Virginia’s economy. I just want to head off and have a little bit of a practice session with you. How do you do it? Here you sit as a governor, and you’ve got a state that has gone through some economic turmoil. How do you plan where to go? How do you pick the companies you’re working with and the sectors?" 

"If you want to put a new plant down, (Virginia’s) the place to put it."

Youngkin said this right after McAuliffe told the audience of business people, "I hope you’re all thinking about coming to Virginia." Youngkin said he was merely adding a hometown pitch. "By the way, I’m a native Virginian, so I’m doing just a little recruiting," he told the audience.

Leaving aside the EXIM symposium, however, Youngkin has made positive comments about aspects of Virginia’s economy that don’t appear in the ad. McAuliffe’s campaign sent them to us and said they show the gist of the ad is accurate.

On June 10, 2019, Youngkin seemed elated by Virginia Tech’s announcement that it would build a graduate campus in Alexandria with space for students and start-ups to do research that would tie in tech companies in Northern Virginia, including the coming Amazon headquarters.

A Virginia Tech press release quoted Youngkin saying, "What’s happening in Northern Virginia is truly transformational, and Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus will be right at the heart of it. Think of the possibilities—new technologies, new businesses, new markets, extraordinary new talent—all being created right here in Northern Virginia. And now, the scope of this ambition can be fully matched by this great location."

On Sept. 1, 2020, Youngkin said that Virginia’s economy had a solid foundation despite the COVID-19 crisis. Here are his comments from an interview with McKinsey & Company, a global technology corporation: 

"A lot of the reasons why Virginia’s suffering economically today could be seen six or nine months ago. If you’d looked at the Virginia economy then, you’d have seen a number of elements: a high-growth tech industry, a growing healthcare sector, and an established manufacturing presence around the marine industry, particularly shipbuilding and ship repair. We also have a large and vibrant tourism industry, with hospitality, restaurants, and entertainment."

Matt Wolking, communications director for Youngkin’s campaign, says Youngkin has been consistent. Youngkin’s detailed economic criticism of McAuliffe and Northam has focused on professionals leaving Northern Virginia for other Southern states because of the high cost of living.

"It’s not that good things aren’t happening in Virginia; it’s just that Virginia should be No. 1," Woking said. "We shouldn’t be in the middle of the pack."

The bottom  line: Contrary to McAuliffe’s ad assertion, Youngkin’s 2017 words do not prove he was a "big fan" of the former governor’s economic policies. But his 2019 words suggest some good things have happened in Virginia over the last eight years - although he did not credit McAuliffe or Northam.

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Our Sources

Terry McAuliffe, Web ad, June 17, 2021.
Email from Macaulay Porter, spokesperson for Glenn Youngkin’s campaign, June 25, 2021.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Are more people leaving Virginia for other states than moving in?" June 17, 2021.
Glenn Youngkin, Comments at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s governor’s debate, April 25, 2021 (1:02:50 mark).. 
Youngkin, Comments at a rally, May 6.2021 (7:22 mark).
Youngkin, WRVA interview, May 21, 2021.
U.S. Import-Export Bank conference, "The Competitive Landscape" April 7, 2017.
EXIM conference, Transcript, April 7, 2017.
Email from Renzo Olivari, spokesman for McAuliffe’s campaign, June 30, 2021.
McAuliffe campaign, Business Insider: "Glenn Youngkin Was For Terry McAuliffe's Economy Before He Was Against It," June 16, 2021.
McKinsey & Company, Interview with Youngkin, Sept. 1, 2020.
Virginia Tech, News Release, June 10, 2019.
Interview with Matt Wolking, communications director for Youngkin campaign, June 30, 2021.

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