SENATORIAL DEBATE

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DISPATCH

Bill Fitzgerald (back to camera) moderated Monday night’s debate between Republican nominee Ed Gillespie (left) and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., and his Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, sparred over ethics, money in politics, the future of Social Security and even Ebola at a debate in Richmond Monday.

Amid news that a health care worker in Dallas had become infected with the disease, both candidates agreed that President Barack Obama has been too slow to deal with the Ebola crisis.

Warner said it may be time to consider restrictions on flights as some European nations have done, “particularly with a nation like Liberia, where Ebola has spread so widely.”

Gillespie said it’s too late to merely consider stopping flights from West Africa where there is an Ebola outbreak. “It’s time to impose a flight ban in that regard and that’s what this administration should do.”

Gillespie said while such a flight ban is in place there must be proper protocols and more drugs to fight the disease should be put into production. He said the screening process does not look reassuring.

Said Warner: “I think like every American I’m concerned about Ebola and the challenges it presents, and I think the administration should have acted quicker.”

Warner said that a couple of weeks back, he wrote the Obama administration and said it needed to increase the screening at America’s “gateway airports” such as Washington Dulles International Airport.

During their third and final debate, hosted by the Virginia AARP and the League of Women Voters of Virginia at WCVE-TV studios, Warner repeatedly had to answer questions about his role in trying to prevent the June resignation of state Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell.

Gillespie wrangled with his previous support for privatizing Social Security and Warner’s allegations that Gillespie had signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promoted by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

“My opponent, he often talks about easing the squeeze or his commitment to Virginians, but he has already taken one of the most important pledges of his campaign — the Grover Norquist Pledge,” Warner said.

Warner’s campaign staff handed reporters a recent letter from Norquist addressed to Gillespie, in which he thanked him for “being such a strong voice for Virginia taxpayers.”

Gillespie countered that he had not signed any pledges, but that he “made a pledge to Virginians that I will fight raising taxes further than Senator Warner already has.”

Warner also charged that Gillespie had been a “major cheerleader for the Bush-Cheney plan to privatize Social Security.”

In 2005, Gillespie had hinted in an interview that “private accounts” should have been part of “an overall solution” to prevent Social Security from going bankrupt.

“Think if that had become legislation in the midst of the financial crisis. It would have been devastation for literally millions of American seniors,” Warner said.

Gillespie countered that he was a staff member of the Bush administration as White House counselor, but he now speaks for himself.

Social Security “must be protected for today’s seniors and not only those in retirement but near retirement as well, and then we have to save it for future generations,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he would support more transparency in campaign finance law. Warner chided Gillespie for working with Bush strategist Karl Rove to form “the granddaddy” of super PACs.

Gillespie and Rove are often credited with conceiving Crossroads GPS, a super PAC designed to aid Republicans by attacking Democrats.

Both Warner and Gillespie said they back “all of the above” policies on energy. Warner said he also believes that climate change is a key concern.

Gillespie said Warner should be a stronger voice in Washington to lift the ban on drilling for energy off Virginia’s coast. Warner said he would support drilling off Virginia’s coast if the state would get part of the proceeds.

As in the candidates’ two previous debates, this encounter did not feature the Libertarian nominee, Robert C. Sarvis, who said in a statement that the debate exposed the similarities of the two major parties.

“As one of the panelists noted, both parties have been implicated in the Phil Puckett scandal. A vote for me is a vote against Virginia’s murky political culture that runs through both major parties,” Sarvis said.

mschmidt@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6537

Twitter: @MSchmidtRTD

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