Virginia's Senator


Warner for U.S. Senate

Sen. Mark Warner’s campaign for re-election is shaping up to be a bit more competitive than his run six years ago, when he steamrolled another former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, by a nearly two-to-one margin.

The latest polls show Warner with a lead of about 10 points against his most serious challenger, Republican Ed Gillespie, and about 40 points ahead of Libertarian and perennial office-seeker Robert Sarvis.

There’s good cause for those margins. Warner, a successful businessman and former state Democratic party official, has remained popular across much of Virginia for more than a decade because of his pragmatism, optimism and willingness to work with political opponents.

As governor, Warner negotiated with Republicans to repair Virginia’s budget and weather the 2002 recession. As a U.S. senator, he has forged relationships with senators from both major parties, identifying common ground and trying to solve structural problems within the federal budget.

He concedes he has not made as much progress as he’d like, but he has committed himself to the task, a stance that often puts his priorities at odds with his party’s.

Virginia voters would do well to send Warner back for a second term in the U.S. Senate.

Gillespie is making his first bid for public office after a long and productive career as a lobbyist and political operative.

His personal story is compelling: The son of an Irish immigrant, he worked with his parents in their grocery business, earned a degree at Catholic University and rose, eventually, from a Senate parking lot attendant to a counselor to President George W. Bush.

Although he lacks a legislative voting history, Gillespie’s tenure in the Bush White House and as chairman of the Republican National Committee provides the public with plenty of background to examine.

A decade ago, he advocated for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; today, he argues the issue is best left to the states to determine.

Neither policy view can be reconciled with the rights embedded in the U.S. Constitution, or with the multitude of court decisions recognizing gay couples’ legal right to marry.

His support for the Bush administration’s profligate spending, proposal to privatize Social Security and use of widespread surveillance provides ample reasons for voters in a broad swath of the electorate to pause over his candidacy.

Both candidates have offered similar views advocating a strong military response to the threat of terrorism and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. And both support drilling for oil off Virginia’s coast, a misguided proposition that needlessly puts at risk a booming coastal tourism economy and complicates training for the Navy, which has repeatedly said drilling could jeopardize its mission.

Gillespie, like most Republican candidates, appears to draw his greatest strength in criticizing Warner for supporting President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. There’s plenty to criticize in that law, particularly when Republican and Democratic leaders have refused to collaborate on fixing its problems.

Gillespie’s insistence on repealing the law is shortsighted; his alternative — a tax credit-heavy plan to entice Americans to buy insurance, with a pledge that those who like their plan “through Obamacare could keep it” (sound familiar?) — promises to reshape the insurance landscape. It would serve as another major economic disruption and inject uncertainty into an industry in need of stability.

Likewise, his refusal to take a position on the Marketplace Fairness Act — treating online and brick-and-mortar stores equally in terms of collecting and remitting state sales tax — deprives voters of a chance to know where he stands on a critical issue to Virginians, who will have to pay higher gas taxes if it doesn’t pass.

That proposal, stuck in a House committee chaired by Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, prevents the government from favoring online retailers in the marketplace, and the additional revenue projected through the measure would bring an influx of funding for roads and education in Virginia.

Warner voted for that bill. He also has backed the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial but worthwhile project that would pipe Canadian tar sands oil to U.S. refineries.

Warner has acknowledged problems with the Affordable Care Act’s roll-out. The president’s administration has repeatedly botched execution of the law and downplayed negative effects.

But on that issue and others, Democratic leaders in the Senate, particularly Majority Leader Harry Reid, have failed to permit votes or amendments, a kind of obstructionism that has damaged the public’s faith in Congress and lawmakers’ faith in each other. Warner recognizes as much and, like his counterpart, Sen. Tim Kaine, has tried to work behind the scenes.

Most importantly, Warner has helped coordinate bipartisan negotiations among rank-and-file members to craft a major deficit-reduction plan that combines spending cuts and tax increases. It has so far fallen by the wayside because of lawmakers’ relentless partisan sniping.

Warner has pledged to continue his work on the deficit and to persuade his Senate colleagues to work more and politic less.

Of the candidates on the ballot, Warner is the better choice to represent Virginia, the one far more likely to put practicality before the narrow partisan interests that have paralyzed Washington.

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