By Lynn R. Mitchell
Virginia Bar Association (VBA) President John Walker, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, Democratic Senator Mark Warner at the 2014 U.S. Senate debate at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. This is the annual summer gathering of the VBA which usually is held at Virginia’s Homestead Resort but rotates every few years to WVa.
Marilyn Shaw, Communications Coordinator for VBA, snaps photos.
Pre-debate … Bob Lewis, photographer with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, scouts out photo ops.
John Seaborn of Washington County, 9th Congressional District Chair Adam Tolbert, Kevin Corbett of Bristol (GOP Chair and SCC member from the 9th CD). It was about a three-hour trip for them from Southwest Virginia especially since they had to reroute on Saturday around the I-77 tunnel that was closed due to a vehicle fire on Friday.
Saturday’s 90-minute debate between Democratic Senator Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association and moderated by Judy Woodruff of the PBS “NewsHour,” provided an excellent opportunity to watch the interaction between the two candidates (see PBS debate video). Live-streamed so voters throughout the Commonwealth could watch, the ballroom at the Greenbrier Resort had several hundred spectators as well as media.
Mark Warner aggressively went after Ed Gillespie, and Gillespie aggressively pushed back. It was the first time the two had come face-to-face since shad planking in the spring when they said hello and moved on. While Gillespie has agreed to future debates in various locations throughout Virginia, Warner has not so this one was important.
Mark Warner let his characteristically affable public persona slip during a debate that found him in a vulnerable position in a year when his president is extremely unpopular and Obamacare, which he enthusiastically embraced and voted for, is under attack. Through the jabs, Gillespie stayed right with him and was even able to chuckle at various points throughout the tug-of-war of words and ideas.
Here are a few personal observations while watching from the media table in the debate hall:
Best line of the debate: Ed Gillespie pointedly noting, “Governor Warner would not recognize Senator Warner.”
Best laugh: Warner noted a wrong name and Gillespie provided the correct name. “Thanks,” acknowledged Warner. “I’m here to help,” joked Gillespie. The debate hall erupted in laughter.
Worst accusation: Warner trying to pin the “partisan” label on Gillespie was laughable considering Warner has voted 97% of the time with President Obama during his time in the Senate.
At one point Warner launched into accusations that Gillespie would vote to repeal Roe versus Wade and falsely said Gillespie supported personhood legislation. Gillespie responded that Warner was making it up, asking, “When did I support a personhood amendment?” Warner stumbled a bit and finally retorted that some of Gillespie’s supporters believed in it.
Gillespie, who is Catholic, said his religious views really shouldn’t be in question. An interesting note is that Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine are also Catholic. Gillespie noted that he believes women’s contraception should be more readily available and sold over the counter.
Gillespie’s issue to pound Warner: Obamacare. Gillespie hit Warner’s support of Obamacare, calling it the single biggest drag currently on the economy, and reminding that Warner told Virginians, “I’m not going to support a healthcare reform plan that’s going to take away the healthcare you’ve got right now or a healthcare plan that you like.” (See YouTube video of Mark Warner making that promise.)
Warner’s issues to pound Gillespie: Partisan label and Enron. I’ve address the partisan issue; as far as Enron, it was an issue that many have never heard of, others have forgotten, and most don’t totally understand or care so I’m not sure how much traction Warner will get out of that subject.
My ears perked up when Judy Woodruff asked the candidates if the immigrant children currently being housed in Staunton, one hundred miles to the east, should be deported (see Unaccompanied Child Immigrants in Verona, Virginia). Augusta County supervisors held a public hearing last week on the immigrant refugee children issue (see Live blogging immigrant children issue at Augusta County supervisors meeting).
Warner responded that the children were due legal processing, and needed to receive health immunizations. He also felt the administration needed to alert local communities, the government needed to stop the flow, and more judges were needed to help more quickly process the children.
Gillespie said it was heartbreaking and he could not imagine how it was for his eight-year-old dad who immigrated from Ireland, and that parents felt forced to turn their children over to strangers. He agreed that more judges are needed to speed up the processing, and the most compassionate thing America could do would be to return the children to their parents.
I would urge those who are truly interested in this race to watch the debate video and listen to each candidate’s exact responses on issues. My notes were extensive and there are many news stories with feedback. Much is at stake for this election.
Many thanks to Marilyn Shaw, communications coordinator with VBA, who did a wonderful job coordinating the media as she has every year. The Greenbrier’s internet access was spotty and the connection was lost during the debate but the venue was spacious and beautiful. Both candidates were available to the press after for further questions and photographs.
News-Virginian: Warner, Gillespie seek to define each other in first debate by Bob Stuart
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Gallery of photos by Bob Brown
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Warner-Gillespie debate offers look at the politics of health care
Washington Post: Candidates trade barbs in first Virginia senatorial debate by Laura Vozzella
Ed Gillespie for Senate: EdforSenate.com
Mark Warner for Senate: MarkWarnerVa.com