A poll released Thursday by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy shows Warner leading by 13 points among likely voters.
In the debate, moderated by Chuck Todd of NBC News, Gade asked voters to take a chance on a fresh face in politics rather than continue with the status quo, forcefully responding to attacks from Warner, a former Virginia governor, who defended his record as a business-minded moderate.
The debate was prerecorded without a live audience and aired on NBC affiliates at 7 p.m. Wednesday, featuring questions by journalists from NBC4 and Telemundo 44.
Warner touted his work on the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress in March and as a member of the president’s economic recovery advisory team, pledging to focus on getting more aid to minority-owned small businesses in the next relief package.
He argued that Gade’s behavior on the campaign trail, including not wearing a mask or practicing enough social distancing at some events, indicated that he did not take the virus seriously.
“On this issue, my opponent and I couldn’t be more different,” Warner said. “My opponent has called wearing masks a sign of tyranny. I think it’s a sign of respect. . . . He says President Trump has done a good job of managing coronavirus. I dramatically disagree.”
Gade, pulling a mask out of his pocket to dispute Warner’s claims, responded by questioning why Warner did not vote for the GOP’s slimmed-down virus relief package earlier this month if he wanted to help Virginians.
Democrats blocked the GOP Senate relief measures, arguing it did not go far enough. Warner said it would have left cities and counties “bankrupt” without assistance, potentially leading to layoffs of essential city employees.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Gade retorted. “You can’t say this is important and then vote against the needs of Virginia citizens.”
Warner used the pandemic as a springboard to discuss President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, evoking one of the most heated segments of the debate. He said Gade “can’t be against the ACA and say he still wants to protect people with preexisting conditions.”
Gade, who lost his right leg in combat, said he found Warner’s suggestion that he wants to strip those protections offensive. He then pulled his second prop of the night out of his pocket — a recent mailer by Warner’s campaign that says Gade “supports eliminating protections for people with preexisting conditions.”
“I have a preexisting condition myself because I got my leg blown off in Iraq,” Gade said, accusing Warner of unfairly reprising arguments the senator made against his 2014 opponent, Republican Ed Gillespie. “There’s nobody who cares more about people with preexisting conditions in this country than I do. And the fact that he’s putting out these ridiculous mailers . . . that’s not who I am. It’s a lie.”
As the two candidates sparred, protests were erupting in Richmond, D.C. and elsewhere over the decision by Louisville prosecutors not to charge police in the death of Breonna Taylor.
Todd soon transitioned the debate to police reform and racial justice.
Both candidates said they opposed defunding the police, and both condemned violence and property damage during protests. But they differed on how far reform measures must go.
Gade, decrying “left-wing violence” in demonstrations, repeatedly tried to insist that Warner did want to take away money for police, pointing to funding cuts in a 2004 state budget that Warner signed as governor. Gade said he opposes various reform measures Democrats put forth in their Justice in Policing Act, including the ban of chokeholds.
“If they can’t use a chokehold sometimes, guess what they’re going to reach for? They’re going to reach for lethal means,” he said. “They’re going to reach for their pistol, and that’s going to be the next killing that happens.”
Warner, a co-sponsor of the Justice in Policing Act, stressed the need for enhanced police training and body cameras. He responded to Gade’s attacks on funding by saying that they were false and that Virginians knew it.
“They know my record of support for law enforcement,” he said.
The candidates also disagreed on whether the Senate should confirm a Trump Supreme Court nominee, with Gade saying that he believes Senate Republicans made a mistake by blocking Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 — but that he also thinks that mistake should not be repeated.
Warner said that precedent must be followed, especially as Virginians are already casting votes in the presidential election.
Gade broke with his party on some immigration issues, in an apparent appeal to moderates. He said he would support blocking the deportations of Central Americans who have been in the country legally for decades with temporary protected status, which the Trump administration is seeking to rescind for millions of immigrants. He also criticized the administration for curbing H-1B visas.
As Gade asked voters to take a chance on him, Warner asked voters to trust his “bipartisan record of getting things done,” including as vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The candidates have two more debates scheduled for October. Early voting in Virginia began last week and continues through Oct. 31.