McAuliffe shrugged off Northam blackface photo as 'dumb mistake 40 years ago' months after calling it racist

Northam served as McAuliffe's lieutenant governor

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In a 2019 interview, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe denied in a 2019 interview that current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wore blackface in a college yearbook photo and shrugged it off as a dumb mistake.

"Listen, even if it had been him in the blackface, you know," McAuliffe said while promoting his book in July of 2019.  "It was a dumb mistake 40 years ago."

ARLINGTON, VA - OCTOBER 22:  Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe  speaks during a bus tour kickoff rally October 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election is November 2, where McAuliffe will face Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, VA - OCTOBER 22:  Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe  speaks during a bus tour kickoff rally October 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election is November 2, where McAuliffe will face Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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"I grew up in New York," McAuliffe added. "And in all fairness folks, I didn't know what blackface was. You know, I had not experienced, we had no racism issues, honestly, growing up in Syracuse."

McAuliffe, who served as Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018, had previously called on Northam to resign over the yearbook photo. The former governor called the photo "racist" and "inexcusable at any age."

"Terry has always been clear that what happened in that photo was wrong," McAuliffe campaign spokesperson Christina Freundlich said in a statement to CNN.

Northam endorsed McAuliffe in the Democratic primary earlier this year and previously served as McAuliffe's lieutenant governor.

ARLINGTON, VA - OCTOBER 22:  Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to reporters after a stop at a local business October 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election is November 2, where McAuliffe will face Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, VA - OCTOBER 22:  Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to reporters after a stop at a local business October 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election is November 2, where McAuliffe will face Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Northam immediately apologized for the photo in February of 2019 after it was published by the website Big League Politics , though he stopped short of resigning over the controversy.

"Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive," Northam said at the time. "I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now."

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But a day later Northam backtracked on the confession, instead saying that neither man in the photo was him.

An investigation into the photo proved to be inconclusive, with investigators unable to determine whether or not the governor was in the photo.

"No one we interviewed told us the governor was in the photograph, and no one could positively state who was in the photograph," the investigators said.

With about two weeks to go until Election Day in Virginia, the gubernatorial showdown between McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is deadlocked, according to a new poll.

McAuliffe and Youngkin are both at 46% among Virginia registered voters, according to a Monmouth University survey conducted Oct. 16-19 and released on Wednesday.

DUMFRIES, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 21: Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (C) dances after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (R) spoke  at his campaign event  on October 21, 2021 in Dumfries, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election, pitting McAuliffe against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, is November 2. Also pictured is McAuliffe's wife, Dorothy (L). (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

DUMFRIES, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 21: Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (C) dances after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (R) spoke  at his campaign event  on October 21, 2021 in Dumfries, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election, pitting McAuliffe against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, is November 2. Also pictured is McAuliffe's wife, Dorothy (L). (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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That’s a shift from Monmouth’s September and August surveys of the closely watched statewide race with likely national implications, when McAuliffe held 5-point leads. 

The McAuliffe campaign put out a media advisory this week alerting the press that Biden would campaign with McAuliffe in Arlington next Tuesday, exactly one week before the election.