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Warner, Gilmore Spar On Taxes And Partisanship

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Former governors and U.S. Senate candidates Mark Warner (D) and James Gilmore (R) face off in Fairfax before business and state leaders on Thursday.
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 19, 2008; Page B01

Republican James S. Gilmore III staked out strong conservative positions and Democrat Mark R. Warner sought to embrace the center, including supporting gun rights in the District, in a debate by Virginia's U.S. Senate candidates yesterday in McLean.

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The candidates, who so far have largely been preoccupied with their records as governor, were forced yesterday to address other issues, such as their views on the economy and the hunt for terrorists around the globe.

They agreed that voters have a clear choice when it comes to personality and leadership styles. Gilmore said he would be a conservative voice in the Democratic-controlled Congress and would support drilling for oil, retaining President Bush's tax cuts and pursuing the war in Iraq to completion. He also would oppose efforts to make it easier to organize a labor union.

"There are serious challenges out there, and people want to see quick action," Gilmore said during the debate, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "The people of Virginia want to know they will have a senator who will keep [his] word."

Warner argued that he has the experience to end years of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and that Virginia voters are ready to embrace his philosophy of seeking common ground on issues such as energy, the right to join a union, and taxes and spending.

"At the end of the day, Virginians do have a choice," Warner told a crowd of 400 Northern Virginia business and political leaders. "A senator who's produced results, or one who's about more partisanship."

Warner took at least one position that could put him at odds with some Democrats in Washington, as well as the more liberal wing of his party. Noting that he has been a strong defender of the Second Amendment, Warner said he agrees with efforts in Congress to seize control of the District's handgun regulation. Warner agreed with Gilmore that D.C. officials appear to be trying to get around the Supreme Court ruling that the city's ban on handguns was unconstitutional.

After a string of questions about domestic policy, debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News drew the two candidates into their most substantive joint discussion of foreign policy so far.

Warner, who does not have a background in foreign affairs, said he believes Pakistan could one day emerge as "the most dangerous nation" in the world.

"The challenge with the Pakistanis is one day they're helping us and the next they're indirectly funneling help to the Taliban," said Warner, who also raised concerns about Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Gilmore, who chaired a federal homeland security commission in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, agreed with Warner that U.S. troops should have the right to enter Pakistan in search of terrorists. But Gilmore also stressed that Pakistan remains a U.S. ally.

"I think I would not sit here in an open forum today and say and describe the country of Pakistan as one of the great potential threats," Gilmore said.


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