- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

U.S. Senate candidate James S. Gilmore III, Virginia Republican, tried to portray Democratic rival Mark Warner at a debate Thursday as the mirror image of presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, while Mr. Warner vowed to bring a bipartisan approach to Congress regardless of his support for the Illinois senator.

“We have to put together an energy policy, financial policies that will do the right things for people, but Mark Warner wants to raise taxes; Barack Obama wants to raise taxes,” Mr. Gilmore said. “This is not going to be healthy for the economy in a time of stress.”

The televised debate, the second between the former Virginia governors, was sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and held at the Capital One Complex in McLean.

Mr. Gilmore repeatedly attempted to tie Mr. Warner — who succeeded him as governor — to Mr. Obama on such issues as energy, labor and fiscal policy.

Mr. Warner said he has expressed support only for rolling back top-tier tax breaks by the Bush administration and is against tax increases on small businesses.

He said his stance on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) agrees with the positions of Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona. But Mr. Warner also insisted he would not resort to partisan politics if elected.

“I’m proud to support Barack Obama. He could be a good president,” Mr. Warner said. “But … I’ll tell you whose team I’m going to be on. I’m going to be on your team. I’m going to be on Virginia’s team. I’m going to be on America’s team, first and foremost.”

Mr. Gilmore continues to face a battle with Mr. Warner in their race to replace retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican who is not related to the candidate.

Polls show Mr. Gilmore trailing Mr. Warner by double digits. Mr. Warner also has far outpaced Mr. Gilmore in fundraising, though the Gilmore campaign says it has greatly increased the number of donors as of late.

During the debate, the candidates continued trading accusations about their respective approaches to state finances during their gubernatorial tenures. Mr. Warner, 53, criticized Mr. Gilmore, 58, for delivering a state budget described as “full of gimmicks” and accused him of implementing fiscal policy that helped create a $6 billion state shortfall.

Mr. Gilmore said there was no deficit when he ended his term and that he delivered a balanced budget. He also has noted throughout his campaign that Mr. Warner promised not to increase taxes when running for governor but later instituted the largest tax increase in state history.

“Bipartisanship, Mark, is no substitute for honesty,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Mr. Gilmore also continued trying to distinguish his energy policy from Mr. Warner’s by insisting the Democrat would oppose offshore drilling. Mr. Warner has said he would be in favor of allowing states to explore the possibility of drilling off their shores. He said Thursday “we need more drilling off the coast.” However, the candidates continue to differ on drilling in the ANWR: Mr. Gilmore favors it, while Mr. Warner opposes the practice.

They agreed that the country needs more oversight in its financial sector, following the recent crisis on Wall Street. Mr. Gilmore said the situation stems from companies allowing too much borrowing against too little assets.

“We simply have to have more oversight right now to make sure that people understand that they can’t operate their businesses that way against the public interest,” he said.

Mr. Warner faulted Washington and Wall Street for being “asleep at the switch.” He said the country should look at Britain’s use of a single financial regulator as a possible model to fix the current crisis.

“If there was ever a time to send somebody to Washington that can read a balance sheet … it’s now,” Mr. Warner said.

The two men differed on foreign policy: Mr. Warner said he favors the withdrawal of troops from Iraq but not on an “arbitrary timeline.”

He said he has not completely agreed with either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain on the issue, but clarified that he previously stated troop withdrawal should begin in January. Mr. Gilmore said there should be no timeline for troop withdrawal.

Mr. Warner also said the country is facing the need to redeploy troops to Afghanistan. He said Pakistan, along with Iran, is one of the most dangerous countries in the world because of its “potential threat.” He softened the statement after the debate and said Pakistan is “a potential flashpoint” in world affairs.

The debate was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News and featured questions by a panel of media members. Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Warner are expected to debate a third time, Oct. 3, in Roanoke.

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