- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

HOT SPRINGS, Va. | Republican James S. Gilmore III used the first debate of the Virginia U.S. Senate campaign Saturday to attack opponent Mark Warner as an untrustworthy tax raiser, while the Democrat fired back that Mr. Gilmore is fiscally irresponsible and a partisan name-caller.

The debate - held at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va. - featured the two former state governors clashing over their actions in office, with each accusing the other of distorting the record and bickering over their respective stances on energy and offshore oil drilling.

“We’ll probably hear more name-calling,” Mr. Warner, 53, said early in the hourlong debate. “You know, at the end of the day, name-calling doesn’t solve the problem.”

Mr. Gilmore, whose gubernatorial term ran from 1998 to 2002, trails Mr. Warner by a wide margin in both fundraising and popular support in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner. He attempted to paint his successor as a governor who unnecessarily pushed through a record $1.4 billion tax increase and a candidate who has waffled in his position on offshore drilling.

Mr. Gilmore cited publicly available letters from 2004 from Virginia Secretary of Finance John M. Bennett showing that state revenues were on the increase prior to passage of Mr. Warner’s landmark tax package - an initiative that contradicted Mr. Warner’s campaign pledge.

He also accused Mr. Warner of changing his stance on drilling to help reduce gas prices, saying the Democrat has only recently included offshore oil exploration in his energy plan.

Mr. Warner clarified Saturday that he supports lifting a federal moratorium on drilling, but leaving it up to the states to decide whether to allow it.

“The issue truly is trust, and who will do what they say they’re going to do,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Mr. Warner, meanwhile, said his tax package stemmed largely from the need to remedy a $6 billion shortfall that he said Mr. Gilmore’s fiscal policies helped create. He championed his promotion of alternative power sources and derided Mr. Gilmore’s insistence on drilling for oil immediately as a “silver-bullet sound bite.”

“His approach [of] drill-only has been called a gimmick,” Mr. Warner said. “On this question of drilling, nobody says that drilling alone is going to solve [the problem], except for Jim Gilmore.”

Mr. Gilmore called Mr. Warner’s claims of a shortfall “fiction” and defended his energy plan - which includes drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge - by saying he also supports developing more nuclear and coal power.

He stressed his goals of helping Virginia families struggling with high gasoline and food prices and tuition costs, saying in his opening statement that “the people of Virginia are in distress.”

“The key point of this - somebody has to do something for these people out there,” Mr. Gilmore said. “People out there are hurting … something has to happen.”

On other issues, Mr. Warner noted Mr. Gilmore’s staunch Republican partisanship, but said he had problems with fellow Republicans in passing a budget as governor.

The Democrat championed his more bipartisan approach - noting that he has been endorsed by two former Republican state lawmakers and Republican law enforcement officials.

“I don’t believe that Washington needs one more kind of name-calling politician, ‘90s-style slash-and-burn, partisanship at all costs,” Mr. Warner said.

He also said his stance on offshore drilling is similar to that of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Gilmore defended his record and said that if going to Republicans to fund big-spending programs is bipartisan, “that ain’t me.”

The two men also faced questions from the moderator and the audience on the environment, U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and their criteria for evaluating nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Gilmore stressed his national security experience, including leading Virginia during the Sept. 11, 2001attacks, and linked energy policy to foreign affairs.

Mr. Warner said he supported the White House’s recent agreement with the Iraqi government to set a “general time horizon” for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Mr. Warner also said there should not be a single litmus test for high court appointees, while Mr. Gilmore said he would back nominees similar to conservatives such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

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