Hampton Roads Republican US Senate Debate Summary

While tourists and natives gathered along Virginia Beach’s Atlantic boardwalk to enjoy Friday’s cool summer evening, politicians and politicos assembled at the Cavalier Hotel in what was, at times, a much warmer atmosphere than the mild nonchalance of the swear-free roads along our nation’s first shoreline.

While politicians themselves refrained from swearing as well, the intensity of candidate interaction on stage was much more heated than Roanoke two weeks ago. George Allen, Bishop EW Jackson, Bob Marshall, and Jamie Radtke came together for a rematch in their mutual quest to be the lead fighter against Tim Kaine after June 12.

Jamie Radtke, the first to make opening statements, emerged from her podium immediately as an aggressor against George Allen–her intraparty arch-nemesis–repeating amidst his own supporters her oft-made attacks against Allen’s public record. She was not as demure as she was in Roanoke; she seemed at the beginning rather like she felt more comfortable in the oceanic atmosphere harpooning her opponent. Indeed, at times, it seemed she was Ahab and the witherwin Allen was her Moby Dick; but while she sails her Pequod just as intently toward a singular goal, her alastor is much less clear and she bears no visible scars of a cetacean attacker.

Despite the groans of the audience, which grew more prominent with each successive attack against her foe, Radtke persisted in highlighting what she considers to be the most negative qualities of the race’s frontrunner. At one point, she even took the opportunity to ask Allen directly to explain his involvement with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the efforts to reform mortgage-lending practices. Some attacks were better than others, but most did not receive approbation from the crowd of diverse supporters. Marshall, Jackson, and (of course) Allen fans united in tiresome exsibilations. She had good points to make, especially about the role of the federal government in education, but these points may have been lost against the distractive offense she made the focal point of her debate. Never missing an opportunity to skewer her only opponent, she even went so far as to blame Allen for Obamacare because he did not win in 2006–a specious argument at best, a deliberately deceitful one at worst.

Bishop EW Jackson, on the other hand, stood in stark contrast to Ms. Radtke. At times, he praised all of his opponents as honorable, at others giving an indirect rebuke to any who would persist in intraparty fighting. The decision to scold Radtke (albeit implicitly) was a courageous one; for Jackson, with his fiery speech and impassioned philosophy, seemed to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand, and it would have been much easier simply to avoid any sort of confrontation than risk alienating those who enjoy negative tactics. But with every exhortation to cease the intraparty bickering, the crowd’s tête montée grew in exultant approbation.

As a divine who fits every point into an overarching principle of theology, so did Bishop Jackson fit every pointed question into a principle of constitutional freedom. At every turn, he adroitly molded the question to fit his own philosophy of liberty, even on the principle of eliminating the national debt. Echoing the polemics of our founders, he inquired, “What good will it do to have a child who is not in debt if that child is not free?” Sounding like Ron Paul–though not as tacit on the issues of morality–he questioned the very premises of the federal government’s presumed authority in areas of student loans and regulation, and urged the federal government to “stay out of Virginia’s business.” On health care and educational costs, the answer was the same: if market forces are allowed to work, and government gets out of the way more people will be able to afford those services because more people will be working.

Perhaps Jackson’s opprobrium toward Radtke earned him some favor from Allen, for the former governor and senator (and unquestioned frontrunner in this contest) at times stood as enraptured by the words of the bishop as the crowd, and even made a point to express agreement with him on issues of economy. As viciously as Radtke was in demanding an answer from Allen, Allen was just as dismissive of Radtke’s attacks–by refusing to address them directly. Instead, Allen seemed to be honing his responses in preparation for the general election debates, making frequent and piercing attacks against Tim Kaine’s record of job losses and tuition hikes.

Allen did take the opportunity to clarify and defend his record in the US Senate, reminding the audience that 2001 was a very different time than 2012, and that the constituency was much more willing to acquiesce to–or, even willing to demand–federal government spending in exchange for increased security at home and from abroad. Hearkening back to the twenty-aught decade in a military-friendly community, he insisted the primary responsibility of the federal government was in the enumerated power of national defense. Allen’s other responses were forward-looking, with plans ranging from the simple to the complex, acknowledging the complexities of federal politics, and emphasizing his resume as the best option to deal with federal problems. Perhaps he was a little boring; but he was neither shrill nor wrong nor unimpressive.

Delegate Bob Marshall was not as impressive or memorable in Hampton Roads as he was in Roanoke. Perhaps he just wasn’t as funny. He did have his share of one-liners (“By the grace of God, I have never been endorsed by the Washington Post”), but the majority of his responses consisted of well-prepared bulleted lists that contained a combination of experience and legislative strategy. To the politically astute and to those who recognize that procedure can be just as important as philosophy, Marshall’s answers were impressive; but to those who fawn over candidates for their artistry in speech rather than their science of parliament, these answers may have been lost on them. If there were no Seventeenth Amendment, Del. Marshall might lead the polls.

If we may judge by crowd reactions, Bishop Jackson’s ideology and mature exhortations for intraparty civility won the day. But if we are to judge by who set himself up best for a win on June 12th, the victory was Allen’s, for he made no missteps that would compromise his commanding lead over his opponents, and he used the opportunity to fire the opening defilading volleys against the broad target of his Democratic opponent.

*The opinions contained herein are expressly those of the author, and in no way reflect any collective endorsement or opinion of BearingDrift.com, Virginia Line Media, or the board of Bearing Drift.