Trump not on stage but front and center in Virginia, New Jersey gubernatorial debates

Former President Trump is not on the ballot this November in Virginia and New Jersey, but he’s center stage in the top-of-the-ticket campaigns in the only two states to hold gubernatorial elections in the year after a presidential contest.

The dynamic was clearly on display in gubernatorial debates in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday night, as the Democratic candidates attempted to tie their Republican opponents to Trump, who lost both states by double digits in last November’s presidential election.

Trump repeatedly came up during a feisty second and final debate in Virginia with five weeks to go until Election Day, where former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin accused each other of lying.

McAuliffe has tried to tie Youngkin, the former CEO of a large private equity firm who’s been endorsed by Trump, to the former president in campaign commercials. And he continued his full-court press at the debate, once again labeling Youngkin a “Trump wannabe.”

Youngkin responded to the effort by McAuliffe to portray him as a Trump clone with some humor.”Terry, you just made folks in Las Vegas a lot of money,” Youngkin said. “There’s an over-under tonight on how many times you’re going to say ‘Donald Trump,’ and it was 10, and you just busted through it.”