Partisanship an Issue at Warner-Gillespie Forum

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie traded accusations Friday that the other candidate is too partisan.

“He's not the senator he said he would be,” Gillespie said at a Senate campaign business forum, referring to Warner's self-description as a bipartisan Democrat.

“Truth is, if Mark Warner had been a senator like he's been a governor, I might not be standing here today,” Gillespie added. “But Gov. Warner wouldn't recognize Sen. Warner.”

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Gillespie used a similar line of attack at previous campaign events. He again cited a statistic by CQ Weekly that Warner voted with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time on Senate floor votes.

Friday's event, sponsored by four area chambers of commerce, was not a debate, as the candidates made back-to-back appearances rather than facing off directly, so Warner didn't directly respond to Gillespie's attacks. In the past, he has called the 97-percent figure misleading, saying it primarily counts Warner's votes to approve Obama's nominations to serve in a variety of federal posts.

Warner called himself a senator who's worked across party lines and said that he starts with a Republican partner on every major piece of legislation he pursues.

He said that Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, “comes from a world where it's all about partisanship, it's all about winning and one team vs. another team.”

The two also sparred over specific issues, such as the Affordable Care Act, which Gillespie said he would work to repeal and replace with market-oriented solutions. He criticized Warner for voting for the law.

Warner said that people he spoke with want to keep much of the law, such as the ban on pre-existing conditions, but he said that fixes are needed. One of his proposals is to let people have a cheaper health coverage option, called “copper,” along with the platinum, gold, silver and bronze plans.

The panelists at the forum, from the four chambers of commerce, asked both candidates whether they support legislation empowering states to tax online sales – an important issue for Virginia because the state is banking on some of that revenue to pay for transportation needs.

Gillespie said he hasn't taken a position on the bill yet. He said brick-and-mortar stores are at a competitive disadvantage now, but that he was concerned about imposing a “national Internet sales tax.”

Warner didn't hesitate.

“Yes!” he said when asked if he supported the bill. “Yes!”

Both candidates said they were concerned about the effect of military cuts on the state. And, in separate meetings with reporters after the forum, both took the same stance on congressional pressure on the Washington Redskins to change their name: that lawmakers should be focusing on more important issues. Critics of the team name say it's a racial slur.

Warner has consistently held a large lead in the polls. A survey released last week by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University shows Warner up 53 percent to Gillespie's 31 percent among likely voters.

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