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Ripping Obama: Gilmore's Last Hope Against Warner?

If you could get out of the way of all the mud being slung at yesterday's U.S. Senate debate in Virginia, you'd have seen a remarkable and almost discomfiting degree of agreement between longtime adversaries Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner.

Democrat and Republican alike agree that the national economy is in big trouble and that the answer is more oversight, more regulation. (Yes, Republican Gilmore said that too.) Both candidates bashed Wall Street executives for unbridled greed. Gilmore, who made a career of criticizing government regulation, emphasized the need for "proper regulations," "ethical lending practices," and "more oversight."

Even when the debate steered away from the economy, the two sometimes struggled to find differences. Both emphasized their support of gun rights and both said they would have voted to strip the District of Columbia of its ability to write its own gun laws in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling tossing out Washington's handgun ban (that would put Warner on the opposite side of all of his fellow Democrats now serving in the House from northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.)

Gilmore and Warner competed to see who could call for offshore oil drilling most convincingly.

Some of this is classic Warnerism: He is one of the nation's most effective Democrats in the art of coopting traditional Republican applause lines and neutralizing wedge issues.

But no amount of what Warner calls "radical centrism" could hide the fact that the two former governors vying to succeed Sen. John Warner just don't like each other. In their debate before the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, Mark Warner was more pleasant toward his rival and Gilmore, the underdog, was far more eager to go on the offensive, but stylistic differences aside, you could just feel the hatred permeating the room from both sides.

The two ex-governors spent an inordinate portion of the debate trashing each other's performance in Richmond, squabbling over past budget battles in arguments that made sense only to the most dedicated observers of Virginia government.

Trailing badly in both the polls and the campaign coffers, Gilmore had two lines that he repeated in response to almost any question posed to him: 1) Every time Warner said anything about working across party lines, Gilmore shot back with "Bipartisanship is no substitute for honesty," and reminded Virginians that Warner raised taxes despite having originally said he wouldn't. And 2) no matter what he was asked, Gilmore found a way to squeeze in a mention of Barack Obama, apparently on the theory that if he can't beat the mega-popular Warner, maybe he can beat the Democratic presidential candidate.

On the Wall Street issue, on energy, on campaign strategy--whatever the question, Gilmore found a way to issue a warning that "Barack Obama wants to raise your taxes, Mark Warner wants to raise your taxes."

Finally, Warner felt compelled to respond, noting that he is "proud to be supporting Barack Obama, but...I'm going to be on Virginia's team, I'm going to be on America's team." That gave Gilmore entree to bash bipartisanship again, and the cycle repeated.

The latest poll numbers show a very tight presidential race in Virginia, hardly enough to justify Gilmore staking his own candidacy on linking Warner to an unpopular Democrat at the top of the ticket. All indications are that Warner will outpoll Obama, but that doesn't necessarily mean that an attack on Obama diminishes Warner's support.

Some readers have been writing in to ask whether Gilmore's insistent linking of Obama and Warner is meant to tap into racial animosity toward Obama. Certainly Gilmore said nothing that would support that notion. But the very fact that both Republicans and Democrats are writing in to say that that was the message they took from Gilmore's debate tactic suggests that someone has race on the brain--was it the candidate or the voters?

In the end, this was a fairly useless debate. Neither candidate landed any hard punches. I'd give the edge to Warner, who was more detailed and forthcoming on the economic crisis and who seemed generally more confident and senatorial. Gilmore has an air of desperation about him these days, and he was way too defensive and brittle about his own record as governor.

Best part of the debate: No one steered the conversation toward the silly, emotional and generally irrelevant social issues that Virginia Republicans have focused on so dependably in recent campaigns. Gilmore deserves considerable credit for that, even if this was a northern Virginia audience that would likely only be turned off by such topics.

There's one more debate, Oct. 3 in Roanoke. Not yet clear if it will be televised in the Washington area.

By Marc Fisher |  September 19, 2008; 8:12 AM ET
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Comments

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Gilmore was the worst governor Virginia has had in recent memory. Worst even than Allen, so help us God. Anyone who votes for him is being dishonest with him/herself and blinded by the republican party. I just don't get it. Aren't there any good republicans out there?

Posted by: FashionistaMomDC | September 19, 2008 9:11 AM

Gilmore was a failed Governor, a failed Republican Party functionary, a failed candidate for President (getting 0% in NH opinion poll before he dropped out!), and by all accounts not a very nice family man either. Rumor has it he was put up against shoo-in Warner so he'll be squashed like a bug and finally go away and let the party regroup.

Posted by: Will | September 19, 2008 9:21 AM

by what mechanism will government control insert ethics into the financial markets? Unlike the private sector, Congress merely passes legislation legalizing formerly unethical practices of its members. It is completely ludicrous for a Senator to critical of Wall Street for having too much greed.

Posted by: newdealdem | September 19, 2008 9:25 AM

That facts can't be changed and VA has not forgotten the pledge of Gilmore when he ran to do away with the car tax. We still have it and the folks here have not forgotten. It was Bush doing the no raising tax pledge, then it bit him. Same with Gilmore, he's toast.

Posted by: Dave | September 19, 2008 9:29 AM

He writes: "But no amount of what Warner calls "radical centrism" could hide the fact that the two former governors vying to succeed Sen. John Warner just don't like each other."

Does ANYONE like Gilmore? I hear from senior people from the Allen administration who can't stand Gilmore. He sold us a bill of goods on the Car Tax Repeal, dumped a failed budget on Warner's lap, and ran the RNC into the ground. What's to like?

Posted by: WJS | September 19, 2008 9:31 AM

As a conservative, I think Warner did a great job in Richmond. I can't help but wonder, however, if it was due to a GOP Legislature that kept him centered.

Warner may well have my otherwise GOP vote come November, however, I want to hear more from him to invalidate my concerns by Election day. Gilmore reminds me of "Bob Dole". It's 1996 all over again.

Posted by: VA Conservative | September 19, 2008 9:44 AM

Gilmore...
"I am John McCain and so can you"

Posted by: Steve | September 19, 2008 9:56 AM

Isn't it amazing that Republicans like Gilmore who have a very clear record on any of a number of issues over a many year history, all of sudden have a TOTAL change of heart, and they are going to go in and clean up the mess that they were a part of making. How dumb do they think we are?

Then again, Bush in 2000 AND in 2004, maybe they have a point.....!

Posted by: waynep | September 19, 2008 10:05 AM

Gilmore, a numbskull ex-Governor who nearly sank the Virginia Ship-of-State, assumes we've forgotten. We ain't forgittin' or forgivin'! Gilmore is so dead!

Posted by: Bobertbobert | September 19, 2008 10:13 AM

Both candidates blamed greed for the current financial debacle. I believe it is the result of deregulation.
To limit excess, it is necessary to impose some regulation to insure no irresponsible financial loans be allowed. Human nature tends to yield to temptations.

Ich Nguyen

Posted by: Ich Nguyen | September 19, 2008 10:52 AM

The Dem should stand up with integrity and morality and admit where to put the blame. Their man The Houdini Clinton! They think using propaganda cliches as Obama is now over abusing, they will get the Highest office in the land, well think not, it is not that easy to pull wool over the eyes. Common sense will prevail over nonesense.

Posted by: roseann | September 19, 2008 1:20 PM

BARACKRACY LEADS TO BUREAUCRACY. NOWAY NOHOW NOOBAMA

Posted by: Anonymous | September 19, 2008 1:22 PM

testagain

Posted by: test | September 19, 2008 4:01 PM

These elections just seem to get more and more depressing.

Posted by: reflection | September 19, 2008 4:02 PM

Poor, pathetic and pompous Governor Car Tax!! Gilmore, you are one sorry, sadsack politician!

Posted by: DC John | September 19, 2008 5:04 PM

I am 84 years of age - white - male. But, I don't recall seeing/hearing any candidate for president as smart as Obama with the possible exception of Lyndon Johnson.

My advice to Obama: All you need to do is tell the truth about McCain and slam his lies about you. There is no need for the Rush Limbaugh type ads.

Posted by: Mayer Smith | September 19, 2008 5:30 PM

McCain and Gilmore sitting in a tree,

DEregulatin fast as can be,

First comes Gramm, then comes the SubPrime,

Then comes McGilmore with the Regulator!

Posted by: Just a Mom | September 19, 2008 11:23 PM

Sen Mark Warner in 8 years for PREZ!!!

Posted by: len | September 20, 2008 2:15 PM

"Some of this is classic Warnerism: He is one of the nation's most effective Democrats in the art of coopting traditional Republican applause lines and neutralizing wedge issues". McGilmore can't beat the mega-popular Warner.Most effective governors in Virginia and Florida have got to be bipartisan. They've got rule from the center, and that's the recipe for a Presidential run in the future.Go Warner!!!

Posted by: Lenbarry | September 20, 2008 2:25 PM

Interesting that somebody is using Obaka as a negative for comparison purposes since all he ever does is compare his opponent to Bush. It's a shame that the Dems couldn't find anybody smart enough to know Bush can't run again and that isn't who he is running against.

But the press keeps giving him his negative sound bites so why stop? The lies are working.

Remember: Obaka only worked 143 days (days the Senate was in session) before he formed his committee to explore running for Pres.

Do you think you should run your company after only 143 working days? Does that make you or him qualified?

If you are honest instead of hysterical or ignorant you will agree that neither of you are the person for the job.

Or you can be hysterical and/or ignorant and vote for Obaka.

Posted by: DC Voter | September 21, 2008 10:06 AM

This is one of those stupid articles which attempts to create a story because the author needs to write one. Gilmore's last hope? Seriously?

Posted by: Stupid article | September 21, 2008 11:18 AM

I'm ready for the Democrats to take the gloves off and expose the Republican party for wht it is: pro-wealthy and pro-business' profits.
I almost didn't give money this year because of the DNC's namby pamby campaign in 2004. They had Bush nailed to the wall for wanting the war before 9/11. They could have compared the list of folk that gave Bush a tremendous war chest before the campaign began. Compare that list with the ones who'll benefit from rebuilding Iraq and I'll bet there are quite a few matches. But most of all--when did Hussein become responsible for the world Trade Center atrocity? Hussein and Bin Laden are on opposite poles. If we felt compelled to rid a nation of evil government, why not look to Sudan? The genocide has been documented, it continues, Al Qaeda used it as a traiing ground, protected by the Arab government in Khartoom.
It looks like we're going down the namby pamby path again. Why not nail Palin for her outright lies that she admits are lies and continues to use as truth? In fact if McCain/Palin were Pinocchio, they'd have to hire extra Secret Service to carry their noses. Why not expose them for what they are--for the interests of big busness and the wealthy?

Posted by: Rick Elliott | September 22, 2008 9:33 AM

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