RICHMOND — Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who has spent much of his campaign tiptoeing around former president Donald Trump's false claims that Joe Biden stole the White House, declined to say in a recent Axios interview if he would have voted on Jan. 6 to certify the 2020 election if he had been a member of Congress.

Youngkin’s refusal to answer came in an interview in Harrisonburg on Friday, which Axios posted on its news site Sunday. His silence on that hypothetical question drew sharp criticism not only from Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, but also some conservatives who have rejected Trump’s baseless claims.

“Even after the death and insurrection of January 6th, @GlennYoungkin still will NOT say the votes cast for President were legitimate and didn’t deserve objection,” tweeted McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a comeback. “ . . . Shame on you, Glenn. Disqualifying.”

Conservative commentator Bill Kristol, who lives in Northern Virginia and has endorsed McAuliffe, quoted the article and tweeted, “To Virginia Republicans who want to convince themselves Youngkin is an acceptable Republican they can responsibly support: Really?”

On Monday, Youngkin’s campaign issued a statement contending that the political newcomer and former private equity executive “would have certified the election” — and that his position on that question should have been self-evident.

“Glenn Youngkin has repeatedly said that Joe Biden was legitimately elected and that there was no significant fraud in Virginia’s 2020 election, leading to the only logical conclusion that he would have certified the election,” the statement said.

Youngkin has, in fact, sent mixed signals about President Biden’s legitimacy and Virginia’s “election integrity” as he has sought to excite the state’s fervently pro-Trump GOP base without alienating suburban swing voters. Republicans need strong support from both groups on Nov. 2 to reverse their 12-year statewide losing streak in increasingly blue Virginia.

The first Axios report noted that Youngkin believes Biden was legitimately elected, but “he wouldn’t say whether he would have voted to certify the election on Jan. 6 if he were a member of Congress. He did say there’s ‘no room for violence in America.’ ”

The article contained only that summary, but in a follow-up on Monday reporting that Youngkin had clarified his position, Axios printed a transcript of the original question and answer.

“Axios: If you were in Congress on January 6, would you have voted to certify the election?

“Glenn Youngkin: So one of the great things is, I’m not in Congress.”

As Youngkin pursued the GOP nomination this year, he refused to acknowledge that Biden had legitimately won the White House. He did so only after winning the gubernatorial nomination in May. Since then, he has continued to play to 2020 election doubters with calls for greater “election integrity” in a state Biden won by 10 points.

Only when pinned down by moderator Susan Page of USA Today in a gubernatorial debate two weeks ago did Youngkin concede, “I do not believe there’s been significant fraud in Virginia elections.”

Virginia’s most prominent 2020 election conspiracy theorist, state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield), said Youngkin tapped her to represent him last month at an antiabortion rally in a rural area near the North Carolina border. Reading from a script Chase said Youngkin’s team asked her to follow, she urged voters to cast their ballots early as a way to deter Democratic voter fraud.

Youngkin’s campaign has declined to say whether it enlisted Chase, who was censured this year by a bipartisan majority of state senators for calling the Jan. 6 insurrectionists “patriots,” as a campaign surrogate.

Youngkin and his campaign initially responded to criticism stemming from the Axios report by seeking to turn the tables on McAuliffe, who as chairman of the Democratic National Committee questioned the outcome of the 2000 election — a close contest marred by “hanging chads” and other ballot-counting drama in Florida that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. McAuliffe hammered on that stolen-election theme for years as DNC chief.

“Terry McAuliffe has pushed The Big Lie about stolen elections for decades,” Youngkin and his campaign tweeted.

Asked whether McAuliffe would have voted to certify the 2000 election had he been in Congress, McAuliffe’s campaign did not hesitate.

“Of course Terry would have voted to certify the 2000 election results,” McAuliffe spokesman Renzo Olivari said. “Unlike Glenn Youngkin, Terry is not a conspiracy theorist who has predicated his entire campaign on Donald Trump’s deadly lies about the 2020 election.”

Youngkin’s campaign responded to that with a written statement: “Congratulations to Terry McAuliffe on finally admitting — after 20 years — that George Bush was elected president.”

The Youngkin campaign statement also said Youngkin would have voted for certification on Jan. 6.

The controversy arose as Youngkin and McAuliffe prepare to meet for their second and final debate Tuesday, hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. The event will be televised at 7 p.m. and moderated by Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” with questions posed by Julie Carey of News 4 and Alberto Pimienta of Telemundo.

Polls have shown a tight race about five weeks before Election Day, with early voting already underway. A Monmouth University survey released Monday afternoon gave McAuliffe a slight lead (48 percent to 43 percent) among registered voters. The Democrat’s margin ranged from three points to seven points, depending on various turnout scenarios.

The poll asked voters about their top issues and which candidate they trust to best handle them. It found Youngkin’s best issue is police and law enforcement (39 percent trust him versus 33 percent for McAuliffe), while McAuliffe’s best is the coronavirus pandemic (41 percent versus 38 percent for Youngkin).

Scott Clement contributed to this report.