It was a debate complete with a challenge on stage, a shout-out to the Washington Nationals and vows to stay true to Virginia voters, as Sen. Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie made their cases to the candidates’ largest debate audience yet.
The hour-long broadcast moderated by Chuck Todd of NBC News featured both candidates at their best, with few, if any missteps from either side.
Todd’s first question focused on the U.S. Supreme Court’s surprise move to decline gay marriage petitions from five states, paving the way for same-sex marriage to become legal in Virginia.
“Are you comfortable (with the decision)?” Todd asked Gillespie. “Can you accept this decision by the Supreme Court not to act?”
“As a senator I believe it's the proper prerogative of the states to make these determinations," Gillespie responded. “And I do not support a federal marriage amendment or a federal policy in this regard.”
One of the biggest surprises of the night came when Warner asked Gillespie if they could both stop using outside money from super PACs, in order to combat unrestrained partisan politics.
“Do I get to spend $1.4 million on an outside group like you spent?” Gillespie responded. “I think we oughta make sure this is about campaigns between the two of us, not outside money,” Warner said.
Obamacare also took center stage, with Gillespie contending an estimated 250,000 Virginians are now at risk of losing their health insurance, because of new standards under the Affordable Care Act.
“You don't have to go far in the Commonwealth to find someone who has had their insurance canceled and lost their doctor as a result of Senator Warner's support for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare,” Gillespie said.
During testimony before Virginia's Health Insurance Reform Commission, Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, backed Warner’s statement. “It’s just an estimate of the worst case scenario, but I’ve seen no data on it,” Gray said in a September NBC12 interview.
Gillespie says he'll come out with his Healthcare Plan, fixing Obamacare Friday #VASenDebate— Mike Valerio (@MikeNBC12) October 7, 2014
Gillespie revealed he would be putting forth an alternative set of ideas concerning healthcare reform by the end of the week.
“Now the fact is that we can have reforms that address concerns about preexisting conditions, that make health care more affordable,” Gillespie said. “I'm gonna put forward a positive alternative, of my own, on Friday and talk about refundable tax credits, for example, and protections on preexisting conditions.”
Debate panelist Aaron Gilchrist, now of NBC4 Washington, asked why Virginian’s economy has lagged in several cities across the Commonwealth, in stark contrast to the debate’s location in affluent Fairfax County.
“One of the things I'm proud of is that Virginia has actually consistently done better than national averages on unemployment.” Warner answered. “I think one of my best days as governor was when we brought close to 700 high-tech jobs to Russell County in Southwest Virginia because we put the incentives and we put the package together.”
“Mark Warner just talked about his time very extensively as Governor Warner,” Gillespie said. “But Gov. Warner wouldn't recognize Sen. Warner today. Our unemployment rate has been climbing. Actually it's climbed 7/10 of a percentage point over the past four months.”
“I think it would be a healthy debate to have on the floor of the United States Senate,” Gillespie said. “And I believe it would send a much stronger signal to our potential allies and to our enemies that the United States is committed to this effort.”
Wrapping up the debate, Sen. Warner was given the last word. At the same time, the Washington Nationals were fighting to stay alive in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. “Go Nats!” Warner said, drawing laughs from the audience, after a tough fight on the field, and a tough fight on the debate stage.