The undercard on this year’s general election ballot in Virginia is the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Mark Warner and challenger Daniel Gade.
Unlike the presidential race and the 7th District U.S. House of Representatives contest, the Senate battle has drawn limited attention nationally. Warner, a former Virginia governor, was first elected to the Senate in 2008 and won a second term by a narrow margin in 2014. Gade is a newcomer to politics who served in the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations after serving in the Army. The challenger has a Ph.D in public administration and policy.
The presidential candidates competed in two debates, one of which was arguably difficult for TV viewers to make sense of because of the constant interruptions. House candidates Abigail Spanberger and Nick Freitas met for one forum, not a debate. Meanwhile, Warner and Gade debated three times and covered several key campaign issues repeatedly.
The following are some of the differences between the two men that stood out during the debates:
Gade, like many fellow Republicans, opposes the Affordable Care Act, enacted during the Obama Administration in 2010. Warner is a strong supporter of the law, highlighting its requirement for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and how it enabled Medicaid to extend coverage for 400,000 more Virginia residents.
The pre-existing condition coverage and keeping young people on their parents’ insurance up to age 26 are two aspects of the law that Gade would keep, he said during the debates.
“The people who say we should repeal the law, root and branch, are not thinking in terms of reality,” Gade said.
But he said the federal government should encourage more free market provisions such as health savings accounts, price transparency and allowing insurers to sell their plans across state lines. Warner said he supports the latter.
Warner seized on a comment Gade made during a radio interview in May in which he described requiring people to wear masks as “a form of tyranny.” The senator said he, by contrast, views mask-wearing as “a sign of respect.”
Gade said his radio show comment was about the federal government forcing people to do something, and that he agrees people should wear them. He used similar reasoning to explain why he opposes a government-mandated vaccine against the coronavirus, saying the idea “makes my skin crawl.”
The two candidates argued numerous times about why a second major relief package in response to the pandemic, to follow up on the CARES Act, has not been passed. Warner said he supported the Democrats’ proposal because it would help protect the jobs of essential workers such as police officers and firefighters by providing financial aid to states and localities. The bill would also provide more assistance to tenants and landlords to minimize evictions.
“We need to go big or go home,” Warner said. “Let’s do a real plan.”
Gade responded that Warner should have voted for a smaller, Republican-backed coronavirus relief bill.
During a discussion about changes in election law to make it safer and easier for people to vote during the pandemic and generally, Gade said he opposes the use of drop boxes and allowing citizens’ votes to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, but arrive in the registrar’s office days afterward.
Criminal justice and race
Warner touted his support for the Justice in Policing Act, a bill that would outlaw the use of chokeholds, no-knock warrants and other tools used by police officers at times to subdue people. Gade said an officer may need to use a chokehold to avoid the alternative of employing a gun.
“Absolutely, there are pockets of racism in this country,” Gade said. The candidates agreed that more training for police to recognize mental health crises is warranted; Warner commented that someone can become an officer in certain localities in as little as 10 weeks.
The men agreed they would not require law enforcement agencies to release body camera footage and the names of officers immediately after an incident. Warner cited an individual officer’s right to due process.
Warner and Gade also agreed changes are needed to qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits. Gade said that police use of military tools such as armored vehicles should be limited, but that police need to be able to defend themselves.
Commenting on a situation near the White House last summer in which a helicopter was used to help disperse protestors from the street, Gade said that is a “very good way” to conduct crowd control “in a non-lethal way.”