Senate Race in Virginia Enters Home Stretch

Alumnus Mark Warner trumpets his record, Ed Gillespie pivots to Obama in Northern Virginia debate.

senate debate
Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, left, Democrat incumbent Mark Warner, B.A. '77, center, and moderator and former GW student Chuck Todd discussed a range of issues at Tuesday night's U.S. Senate debate. (Washington Post)
October 08, 2014

By James Irwin

Ed Gillespie continues to link Mark Warner to an unpopular president. Sen. Warner continues to try to keep himself beyond Mr. Gillespie's assertions.

The two faced off for a second time Tuesday night at Capital One headquarters in McLean, Va., in a lively U.S. Senate debate where both candidates pledged to bring a more independent voice to the nation’s capital. The debate, hosted by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the George Washington University, was moderated by former GW student and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd.

With 27 days remaining until Election Day, Mr. Gillespie, the Republican nominee, tied Democratic incumbent Sen. Warner’s record with President Barack Obama, while Sen. Warner, B.A. ’77, pointed to his bipartisan efforts during his time representing Virginia in the Senate.

“I'm just not willing to accept the notion that somehow in America we can't fix problems,” Sen. Warner said. “Do I get frustrated with what's going on in Congress? Yes. But what it requires is people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get things done and be bipartisan. And I'm proud of my record there. I think the record speaks for itself.”

That record, Sen. Warner said, includes a host of cooperative work and stances against his own party. The former Virginia governor has focused on that topic, which includes calling on the Obama administration in July to either ease health care regulations on employers or push back the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act for another year. On Tuesday, he followed a similar pattern, highlighting his centrist stance on energy—“I'm for all of the above including coal, including nuclear, including natural gas … I support drilling off the coast of Virginia, as long as we get a share of the royalties”—and how he disagrees with President Obama’s recent decision to rule out using combat troops in the war against the terrorist group ISIS.

Mr. Gillespie, who also is against ruling out the use of combat troops in the fight against ISIS, has attempted to undercut Sen. Warner’s centrist message by linking him to President Obama and the ACA. (A Sept. 3 GW Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters nationwide found President Obama’s disapproval rating to be 51 percent.) Mr. Gillespie highlighted Sen. Warner’s voting record as an example of a lock-step allegiance with the president.

“Under these Obama/Warner policies the federal government is doing too many things that should be better left to the state and local governments and the private sector and failing at too many things that it should be doing right,” he said. “My policies will make things better.”

GW alumnus Mark Warner currently holds a double-digit lead over Ed Gillespie, according to aggregate polling sites RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight. (Washington Post)

The race has become more aggressive in recent weeks, and both candidates took shots at each other during the debate.

“The last thing Washington needs is another partisan warrior in either political party,” Sen. Warner said of Mr. Gillespie, a former Enron lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee. “In these challenging times the world needs a strong America, economically, militarily and morally. And to make that happen America has to have leaders who can work together.”

Mr. Gillespie, however, said he believes Sen. Warner has squandered his chance at being one of those leaders, saying the bipartisan politician who served as Virginia governor from 2002 to 2006 “wouldn’t recognize” the senator who “votes with President Obama 97 percent of the time.”

Sen. Warner, as he has throughout the campaign, disputed that notion.

"My opponent's whole campaign has been pretty much based on this bogus charge," he said.

Mr. Gillespie outlined a few of his policy points Tuesday night, including replacing sequestration cuts and revisiting mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent offenders—“We swung too far there”—to give more discretion to judges in punishing convicted criminals.

The candidates, predictably, clashed on most current events, including the Supreme Court's decision not to review a case on same-sex marriage. Mr. Gillespie, who opposes same-sex marriage, circumvented the issue, saying it should be left to states to determine. Sen. Warner said he is in favor of marriage equality.

Mr. Gillespie trails Sen. Warner by double digits, according to aggregate polling sites RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight. He has yet to lead in the race, and Sen. Warner gave him little opportunity to make a big move Tuesday night. Still, the race has tightened a little since the middle of the summer. Outlier polls in July had Sen. Warner leading by as many as 25 points. Most polling data now reflects a lead in the low teens.

“We’re gaining on him every day,” Mr. Gillespie said. “This race is narrowing, as I always knew it would. I feel real momentum everywhere I go.”


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