Senate races

Warner, Gillespie vie for independents in Va. Senate debate

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie sparred over who would be a more independent senator during Tuesday night’s debate.

Warner, the state’s former governor and current senator, cited his opponent’s previous job as head of the Republican National Committee as proof that he’d put politics before Virginians.

{mosads}”He even went on TV and called himself a ‘partisan warrior.’ His words, not mine,” Warner said. “I gotta tell you, the last thing Washington needs is another partisan warrior in either political party.”

But Gillespie was quick to paint the senator as a rubber stamp for President Obama, who has a 50 percent disapproval rating in the state. In his opening statement alone, Gillespie slammed the “Obama-Warner” policies four times.

“The policies coming out of Washington today are squeezing hard-working Virginians between lost jobs, lower take-home pay, reduced working hours, and higher prices for healthcare, energy and food,” the Republican. “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.”

The debate, moderated by NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd, comes with just one month left before the election and on the heels of a new poll from Christopher Newport University that shows Warner leading 51 percent to 39 percent among likely voters. Gillespie is slightly ahead with male and white voters, but Warner holds a commanding lead among independent, female and black voters.

The two sparred over Warner’s record in the Senate, with Gillespie undercutting his opponent’s message of bipartisanship with the charge that Warner has voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time. That was rated “True” by PolitiFact in May.

“Senator Warner’s press releases are very bipartisan, but his floor votes are very party-line,” he said. “One of the reasons he takes arrows from both sides is that he says one thing and votes the other.”

Warner called that a “bogus charge.” He added that most of the votes were procedural and that National Journal ranks him as a centrist senator. 

“His whole career has been as a partisan political operative. He says, ‘Elect me and I’m suddenly going to be bipartisan,’ ” Warner said.”You have my record.”

Warner also floated the idea of fixing ObamaCare with a cheaper plan option, rolling back some regulations and allowing companies to sell across state lines. Gillespie chided Warner for supporting the program, which he says will force thousands of Virginians to lose their healthcare plans that are not compliant with the new laws.

While bashing new campaign finance rules that eased restrictions on many donors and independent expenditures, Warner attempted to get Gillespie to agree to halt independent expenditures in the race. Gillespie laughed the suggestion off, noting that the super-PAC aligned with Warner has spent more than $1 million in issue ads against him, while the super-PAC aligned with Gillespie “hasn’t spent a penny.”

As the debate turned toward the economy, Warner touted his work as governor and the fact that Virginia has consistently stayed below the national average for unemployment. He promoted plans to expand broadband across the state and an “all the above” energy policy to bring jobs to Virginia.

But Gillespie said that the state’s unemployment has climbed 7/10ths of a percentage point over the last four months. He added that Warner hasn’t come out against a new Environmental Protection Agency rule on coal power plants that could jeopardize a number of the state’s power plants.

When confronted on the EPA rule, Warner said that he wants to extend the agency’s comment period so he can “get the facts right” before deciding.

“Governor Warner wouldn’t recognize Senator Warner today and the votes that he has cast in the United Sates senate for job-killing policies after job-killing policies,” Gillespie said.  

The two also differed over their assessment of their party’s leadership in the Senate. When asked if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was the best person to lead Senate Democrats, Warner said that he thought “we could perhaps do better in both parties moving forward.” Gillespie stood by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and said that he believes McConnell will uphold his promise to open the Senate floor up to more debate and amendments, a frequent criticism of Reid’s leadership.  

Tags Ed Gillespie Harry Reid Mark Warner Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Virginia Virginia Senate
See all Hill.TV See all Video