Common Themes Sounded in Debate
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Democrat Andrew Hurst cast Rep. Thomas M. Davis III last night as a captive of special interests and a rubber stamp for an unpopular Bush administration, but the Republican incumbent said voters in Virginia's 11th District value the experience and gravitas he has gained during six terms in Congress.
The 90-minute debate at the Fairfax County Government Center featured some of the same scuffles between the parties that are playing out nationally this fall, as Democrats see an opening with the souring mood over the war in Iraq, immigration issues and corruption scandals in Congress.
It was the first of nine scheduled debates before the Nov. 7 election to represent the 11th District, which includes central Fairfax and western Prince William counties and Fairfax City. Independent Green Party candidate Ferdinando Greco, 43, also participated, calling himself an advocate for public transit and more government accountability.
"I haven't done a lot of things Mr. Davis has done," Hurst, 36, a Springfield lawyer making his first run for office, told the crowd of 175. "I haven't supported George Bush 90 percent of the time. I haven't taken special-interest money."
It's a theme that Hurst, a partner in the law firm Reed Smith LLP, has sounded since winning the Democratic primary in June. Even though Davis has routinely captured 60 percent of the vote in the 11th District, Hurst is hoping the national mood will make the popular congressman vulnerable.
But Davis, 57, stressed his deep ties to Fairfax voters during two decades in politics and ticked off a number of projects he has delivered to the district, such as getting the federal prison in Lorton closed and securing money to widen Route 123.
"Andy, all you have are Democrat, Democrat, Democrat credentials," Davis said, referring to Hurst's years as a party activist. "But I took over this county [as Board of Supervisors chairman] and got us out of financial straits. . . . I'm connected to this community."
Davis also shot back at Hurst's charge that he is beholden to campaign donors. "The bulk of his contributors are out-of-state lawyers who sue doctors," Davis said.
Over and over, on issues from the environment to health care, Hurst repeated his claim that Davis caters to "special interests" that influence his votes on legislation designed to help big business but not average people.
The candidates clashed on the war in Iraq, with Hurst saying that although he doesn't "have all the answers on this," the Bush administration is "solving nothing in Iraq right now."
Davis voted to go to war and said he is "critical of many aspects of [the administration's] conduct of the war." He called government waste in federal contracts "a disgrace." But, he said, "unlike Mr. Hurst, I don't think this is a point where you set a date and leave."
Davis also criticized Hurst's views on immigration reform.
"I've been to the border. I saw people pouring in," Davis said. "Mr. Hurst has repeatedly said that building a wall [to secure to border] is stupid. . . . He is out of sync with a majority of people."
Hurst called the proposed fence a "political sideshow" that obscures Republicans' unwillingness to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
The ill-fated effort to build a tunnel for a planned Metrorail extension through Tysons Corner divided the candidates as well. Davis said he favored a tunnel but bowed to the reality that the Federal Transit Administration is skeptical of the extra cost and likely delays. Hurst called the decision to kill the idea a failure by Davis to deliver for his constituents.