RICHMOND — Former president Donald Trump on Wednesday warned that Democrats might try to steal the Virginia governor's race, pegging his prediction on baseless claims of 2020 election fraud that Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin has flirted with but not fully embraced.

“You know how they cheat in elections. The Virginia governor’s election — you better watch it,” Trump said in an appearance on the John Fredericks Radio Show. “You have a close race in Virginia, but it’s not close if they cheat.”

Youngkin’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s claim. But Virginia’s most prominent 2020 election conspiracy theorist — state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield) — issued a similar warning last weekend at an antiabortion rally where she said she was officially representing Youngkin as a campaign surrogate.

“Because the Democrats like to cheat, you have to cast your vote before they do,” Chase told the crowd at a Bikers for Babies gathering in Henry County, near the North Carolina border. Chase read from notes, saying she wanted to make sure she did not stray from the campaign’s script. A Youngkin spokesman did not respond to messages seeking to confirm that the campaign had enlisted her as a surrogate.

The Republican candidate finds himself increasingly caught between the need to rev up his party’s wildly pro-Trump base and attract the suburban swing voters essential to winning increasingly blue Virginia. He faces Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a comeback, in November.

Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former private equity executive, has tried to walk a fine line on the subject of voter fraud, even in a state that Trump lost by 10 points. He was slow to acknowledge the legitimacy of President Biden’s election and made “election integrity” the early centerpiece of his campaign.

In August, Youngkin attended an “election integrity” rally at Liberty University, organized by a Trump supporter who was outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. He was also caught on tape at an earlier event treading carefully around a supporter’s wild claim that Trump was on the verge of being restored to the White House. Youngkin’s campaign later said he was trying to set the woman straight, but “politely.”

More recently, however, Youngkin pushed back when a supporter urged him not to concede if McAuliffe is declared the winner. Youngkin said that he expects to win but will concede if he doesn’t.

“I can’t promise you I won’t concede because I’m going to actually do what’s best for Virginia,” he said.

But the Republican Party of Virginia is also challenging McAuliffe’s legitimacy, filing suit last week in Richmond Circuit Court arguing that the Democrat should be removed from the ballot because he failed to sign a declaration of candidacy form in March. The GOP also argues that two Democratic aides who signed the form as witnesses committed fraud because of McAuliffe’s missing signature.

McAuliffe filed a motion to have the suit dismissed, and a Richmond judge declined to grant a temporary injunction in a similar case filed by two voters in June.

Youngkin has not commented on the Republican Party’s case, but his campaign has touted it on social media.

On Wednesday, Democrats were eager to tie Youngkin to Trump’s comments about election fraud.

“Trump is once again peddling the exact rhetoric that led to the deadly insurrection on January 6th,” Manuel Bonder, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a written statement. “Anything less than a forceful condemnation from Glenn Youngkin is further proof that he is all in on Trump’s most dangerous, unhinged conspiracy theories.”

McAuliffe also pressed Youngkin Wednesday on another divisive national issue: abortion, as a new law took effect in Texas banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“I think you’ve just seen what’s happened in Texas,” McAuliffe said during an appearance at the Virginia FREE Leadership Luncheon in Fairfax, which Youngkin also attended. “I cannot tell you how dangerous this is for women. Dangerous. It is crippling for business.”

Asked if he would support such a law in Virginia, Youngkin did not answer directly, saying only that he is “pro-life” but supports abortion rights in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.

An encounter earlier in the week illustrates the feat Youngkin is trying to pull off by both energizing the Republican base and wooing more centrist voters. On Monday, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka attacked Youngkin on his “America First” podcast and radio show, which Gorka claims has more than 3 million listeners. Complaining that Youngkin had never followed through on invitations to appear on the show, Gorka questioned the Republican’s conservative credentials.

“Are you truly a conservative, or are you just another RINO?” he said, meaning “Republican In Name Only.” Later that day, Gorka took a call from a listener named “Josh” who defended Youngkin.

“What frustrates me is he’s running into head winds from conservatives like you who want to take him down,” the caller said. “We need to win in Virginia, yet you’re trying to take this guy on and take his legs out underneath him.”

Gorka belittled the caller, speculated that he worked for the Youngkin campaign, and then later — after matching the caller’s phone number to the campaign staffer’s — identified him on-air as a Youngkin campaign spokesman.

Gorka renewed his challenge to Youngkin to demonstrate his conservative backbone: “Step up to the plate,” he growled, “if you’re man enough.”

The Youngkin campaign has not disputed that the caller was from the campaign but declined on Wednesday to comment about the exchange, which had made the rounds on social media.

Karina Elwood reported from Washington.