Gilmore, Warner Wrestle With Past Credits, Criticisms

By Anita Kumar and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 20, 2008

HOT SPRINGS, Va., July 19 -- Republican James S. Gilmore III and Democrat Mark R. Warner vigorously and repeatedly attacked each other on energy, fiscal responsibility and truthfulness Saturday in their first debate in the race for U.S. Senate.

Gilmore occasionally raised his voice while accusing Warner of being a "typical Washington politician" who hid crucial information from Virginians and continues to change his positions.

"You can't trust what Mark Warner would do in the United States Senate," Gilmore said.

Warner accused Gilmore of name-calling and gimmicks and of misrepresenting both candidates' records.

"I am anxious for the people of Virginia to decide who they trust more," Warner said.

Gilmore and Warner, both former governors, are running to replace Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who is retiring. It is a closely watched race that could help determine whether Virginia's gradual shift toward Democratic statewide candidates is solidifying.

More than three months before the Nov. 4 election, Warner has a big lead in polls and fundraising. Gilmore, who barely won his party's nomination six weeks ago, had much more riding on the debate and sought to prove that he can compete with his popular rival.

Their sharp differences in leadership style and on the issues were clear as the candidates traded negative remarks early in the debate.

Gilmore, who served from 1998 until 2002, and Warner, who replaced him, clashed on such topics as taxes and spending, the Iraq war, the Supreme Court confirmation process and children's health insurance. But much of the 75-minute debate focused on the nation's growing energy crisis.

Gilmore insisted that the only way to reduce the price of gas is to drill along the nation's coastlines and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"Someone has to do something for these people out there," Gilmore said. "People out there are hurting. People can't pay their bills. We've got to help the people who are in trouble. The best way we are going to do that is bring that oil in."

Warner, whose energy plan calls for getting tougher with OPEC and increasing regulation on investors who speculate in the oil market, did not rule out more drilling. He has said that he is skeptical of drilling for oil offshore, but during the debate he said he would support a bill to lift the moratorium on drilling and allow states to decide.

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