WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) After several months of indirectly taking shots at each other, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie traded jabs in person Saturday at their first debate.
The pair battled over immigration, energy, the federal budget, and same-sex marriage— while sparring throughout the debate over which candidate has been more partisan.
Warner blasted the former Republican National Committee chairman for his past lobbying clients, including Enron, and said Gillespie would contribute to continued congressional gridlock.
“The last thing Washington needs is a partisan warrior,” Warner said.
Gillespie charged Warner, a former Virginia governor, of being a “blank check” for the Obama administration who hadn’t kept his promises to be a bipartisan legislator.
“Gov. Warner wouldn’t recognize Sen. Warner today,” Gillespie said.
The 90-minute debate took place in front of a few hundred Virginia lawyers at the exclusive Greenbrier hotel resort in West Virginia, where the Virginia Bar Association held its annual summer meeting.
Warner, who raised nearly $10 million in the first six months of this year compared with $4.2 million by Gillespie, is considered the front-runner. But Republicans are hoping President Barack Obama’s sagging popularity will help them gain a seat in the Senate. The GOP needs six seats to grab control of the chamber. Gillespie’s strategy has been to tie Warner to Obama’s record, in particular the Affordable Care Act.
The Virginia contest has so far failed to draw many headlines, thanks to Warner’s sizable lead in polls. Washington-based groups that have poured money into competitive Senate races around the country have stayed out of Virginia.
Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was not invited to the debate.
– ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press