CBSN

Virginia gubernatorial candidates talk Trump during debate

In the first debate in the Virginia governor's race, President Trump was a key topic for candidates Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam. 

The gubernatorial debate, moderated by "PBS NewsHour" host Judy Woodruff on Saturday, devoted much of the candidates opening questions to their support, or lack thereof, for Mr. Trump. 

Virginia Gubernatorial Debate 2017 by PBS NewsHour on YouTube

When asked of Democrat Ralph Northam, who referred to Mr. Trump as a "narcissistic maniac," if he felt the president was fit for the office, Northam told Woodruff he stood by his previous comments. 

"I believe our president is a dangerous man, I think he lacks empathy," said Northam. He added that Mr. Trump has "difficulty telling the truth and it happens again and again."

Northam, shifting to his Republican challenger Gillespie, said that his "opponent has stood there and said nothing about 'Trumpcare' or the travel ban," and he added that many of his Muslim friends live in fear of the administration's policy banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries. "That's not the Virginia I know, Virginia is diverse and inclusive and will continue to be when I'm governor."

When pressed on whether he would support actions toward impeaching Mr. Trump, Northam said he has "full faith in Congress," including Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, should impeachment ever come up. 

Gillespie attempted to pivot to supporting the administration, pointing to Mr. Trump's commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk and applauding the creation of jobs to build the Navy's new aircraft carrier in the Commonwealth of Virginia. When pressed to respond to the original question of whether he'd support impeaching Mr. Trump, Gillespie didn't directly answer, saying instead that the state is in need of a "governor who can work with the president, vice president and administration."

"What are you going to do as our governor?" Gillespie posed to Northam. "Call the White House put me through to the narcissistic maniac?" 

Gillespie was also asked on the president's power to pardon in light of Mr. Trump's recent tweets and reports that his legal team has been discussing Mr. Trump's authority to grant pardons

"When the president is doing things good for Virginia, I'm going to work to makes sure things get done," responded Gillespie. He added, "I don't agree with everything the president says or tweets, but my focus is on Virginia."

Asked if he would support the president if he were to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Gillespie sidestepped the question, reiterating his claim that his focus remains on Virginia.  

Northman responded to Gillespie's non-answer: "We can't just pick and choose, we got a lot of other issues right here in Virginia we need to address and you've been missing in action."

The current governor is Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is limited to one term. McAuliffe, a close ally of the Clinton family, is seen as a possible presidential contender in 2020. 

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital