- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Sen. Charles S. Robb and Republican challenger George F. Allen each threw a few good barbs in last night's debate, the second of the campaign season.

Mr. Robb, after seeming on the ropes at times when the two men debated in August, took the offensive several times, asking questions about the specifics of Mr. Allen's education plan and demanding that Mr. Allen clarify his position on abortion.

Mr. Allen responded with a few jabs of his own, charging that Mr. Robb has made good on his gaffe in 1994, when he said he would take food from the mouths of widows and orphans to balance the budget.

Mr. Allen also certainly won the "aw-shucks" contest with his references to his family and comparing the time Mr. Robb was at a $10,000-a-plate fund-raiser with President Clinton in Charlottesville while Mr. Allen was up the street hosting a $5 all-you-can-eat town-hall meeting in Madison County.

The debate, at Virginia Commonwealth University, was moderated by L. Douglas Wilder, himself a former Virginia governor who served between Mr. Robb and Mr. Allen. Mr. Wilder, a Democrat, ran against Mr. Robb both in the party primary in 1994 and briefly as an independent in the general election.

Thus, the debate had the promise of good political theater, and in that it didn't disappoint.

Mr. Robb has chosen fiscal responsibility as his key issue and touts his "tough votes" against tax cuts and for spending cuts as a symbol of his dedication to balancing the budget.

Mr. Allen, by contrast, is a true tax-cutter and makes that the centerpiece of his appeal.

Both candidates spent most of the debate going into greater depth on issues they have raised in speeches, television commercials and campaign literature.

And both spent a lot of time talking about education realizing that, once again, polls show it to be the biggest issue for Virginia voters.

Mr. Robb repeated the charge he and state Democrats have made in television ads that one of Mr. Allen's first actions as governor in 1994 was to cut $100 million from education, and he contrasted that with his addition of funding to education, even during the recession of the early 1980s.

"In the toughest of times, I fought to increase funding for education," Mr. Robb said. "In the most prosperous of times, George Allen tried to cut funding for education."

Mr. Allen responded by saying he put in more than $100 million to cut class sizes his first year, and then touted his education plan, which has at its center a $1,000-per-child tax credit for non-tuition costs.

Mr. Robb retorted that that money is better spent hiring teachers than in giving a tax cut.

The panelists peppered the candidates with questions about their positions on social issues.

One asked Mr. Allen to explain his recent announcement that he will support the assault-weapons ban when it comes up for renewal in four years, even though he has called the ban toothless in the past. But Mr. Allen didn't directly answer the question, instead saying the laws already on the books should be preserved. Instead, he criticized the "Brady Law" for imposing a waiting period, when Virginia is able to do instant background checks.

At the same time, Mr. Robb defended his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents states from being forced to recognize homosexual "marriages" performed in other states, coloring it not as a vote for gay "marriage," but rather an anti-discrimination vote.

"It's a state issue, and the federal government ought not be intruding," Mr. Robb said.

Both candidates were on the defensive with their positions on abortion.

Mr. Robb asked if Mr. Allen supported Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, but Mr. Allen said the only issues that will come before the Senate are parental notification, which he supports; federal funding of abortions, which he opposes; and partial-birth abortions, which he also opposes.

Mr. Allen then attacked Mr. Robb's vote against a ban on partial-birth abortion. Mr. Robb has signed on to an amendment that would have banned all late-term abortions, but has voted against the bill to ban partial-birth abortions specifically. Mr. Allen chastised him for not voting for the one bill that has a chance of passage.

But one new charge came from Mr. Allen, who accused Mr. Robb of having made good on a much-publicized remark many consider it a big gaffe from his 1994 campaign, when he said he would take food from the mouths of widows and orphans to balance the federal budget.

Mr. Allen said Mr. Robb had done just that with his vote to continue taxing Social Security benefits for senior citizens earning $25,000 a year, and to his opposition to a tax credit for families who adopt children.

Mr. Robb countered that his vote on Social Security actually prevented draining money from Medicare, and throughout the debate he defended his votes to hold the line on spending and his opposition to tax cuts.

Now the candidates turn their attention to Northern Virginia, where the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce hosts the two in a debate at noon today.

The candidates are scheduled for one more debate, in Charlottesville on Oct. 22.

Last night's debate, while good theater, was missed by many in vote-rich Northern Virginia.

It competed on television with the Olympics and the Washington Redskins game. And though major broadcast TV stations aired it in Roanoke, Richmond and Norfolk, in Northern Virginia it was available only delayed and on cable. NewsChannel 8 carried the war of words at 10 p.m.

And it began about half an hour late because one of the CBS stations carrying the broadcast had to finish showing the Jets-Buccaneers football game, then run "60 Minutes."

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