MAC-PAC GOP Debate Grades

Over the weekend, the Millennial Advocacy Council Political Action Committee held one of 0the first Republican forums for candidates running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. Questions ranged from issues as diverse opioid addiction to student loan debt. Overall, the forum was civil and calm, which is likely because this was a candidates forum and not a formal set of debates.

Here’s an objective look at how the candidates did, and some humble suggestions for the next one.

Attorney General

Chuck Smith: C 

There’s a very simple statement made by fictional President Josiah Bartlett of The West Wing. “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Well, in the case of Mr. Smith, decisions are made by those who show up on time. Mr. Smith was over 30 minutes late to an hour-long forum, missing two questions posed for the candidates. Even after he arrived, he left much to be desired from his performance. His only specific policy stance was that he supports an actual Muslim ban. Not a travel ban, like the executive order that barred people from certain countries, but an actual ban on Muslims entering the country. Mr. Smith said “[w]e don’t need anymore mosques or Muslims or refugee resettlement.”

Mr. Smith should do two of the following things. First, don’t commit to an event that you cannot show up to on time. It makes you look like you don’t care to attend. Second, go read the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution again. Barring people from entering the country based solely on a religious test, no matter who proposes it, is unconstitutional.  People should expect more from a lawyer, especially one running to be the Commonwealth’s lead attorney.

John Adams: A-

John Adams is a calm, cool, and collected speaker. Years of legal experience has taught him how to present himself in this format. He’s quick witted, extremely intelligent, and well versed in the necessary policy. John focused more on his Democratic opponent than his Republican opponent, which isn’t always the case in this kind of forum.

My only suggestion for Mr. Adams is that it actually is acceptable to draw a contrast with your Republican opponent in a forum. I realize there is about a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of Chuck Smith being the Republican nominee for Attorney General. I’m not trying to be mean when I say that, but as of the last VPAP report, Mr. Smith has only slight more than $3,ooo cash on hand, compared to his opponent’s nearly $300,000.  So when Mr. Smith says something so radical and blatantly unconstitutional as barring people from entering the country because of their religion, John should not have ignored it and instead addressed the issue head on.  Playing it safe is one thing, but voters appreciate when candidates stand for something.

Lieutenant Governor

Senator Bryce Reeves and Delegate Glenn Davis: B+ (both)

Senator Reeves, except for the moment he decided to jokingly fling a water bottle at the moderator, was also a calm speaker.  He was careful in his performance and did not address his opponent directly. He shined when he showed his depth on policy issues, and his answer on the opioid question was solid. Reeves also deserves points for focusing on policy issues and not politics in the Lieutenant Governor’s race.  The problem was that he spent more time talking about his biography than on policy.

Delegate Davis wins the award for most improved speaker on the stump this campaign cycle. When I first met Glenn a year ago, he was nervous on the stump. Gone is that nervous candidate and in his place is a calm speaker. Glenn also did not address his opponent during the forum, but he spoke with knowledge on issues such as economic development.  Glenn was good when he spoke about policy, but he also spent too much time on stories, like his discussion of his trip to Estonia, that were a distraction from his policy answers.

My only advice to both competitors is to talk about policy more. Both candidates shined when they were showing the knowledge they had on issues.

Both candidates also shouldn’t have been afraid to state the policy differences they have with their opponents. Don’t just address the issues, show your differences from your opponents. We need to see a reason to vote for you, not just against you.  This is especially true in a primary, where the only real differences between candidates are likely their biographies.  Any kind of policy differences become much more important and it’s critical for all the candidates to highlight them, because nobody is going to know them if they don’t explain them.

Jill Vogel: N/A

Senator Vogel did not participate in the forum portion of the day’s activities.


Denver Riggleman: A-

If I had to pick a winner in this debate, it would most likely be Denver Riggleman. For those of you not aware, Mr. Riggleman severely injured his knee while exercising on Friday. You could tell at points during the forum that Mr. Riggleman was in a lot of pain. He just looked like he was ready to fall over at points during the forum.  But he was there and he participated, arriving on time and staying for the entire forum.  I give him credit for that.

At the same time, every time that Mr. Riggleman was asked a question, he gave what seemed like the most genuine answers to each question. Denver is a real human being, not a politician, and his answers to the questions don’t sound scripted. He certainly doesn’t present the issues like a policy wonk, but he presents them in a manner that the average voter can understand. He’s real, honest, genuine, and he comes across as a true believer in what he says. That’s not something you can teach every candidate, but Mr. Riggleman is one of the most genuine candidates I have ever seen. His best answer was when asked about Obamacare. He didn’t reference a study or some government issued statistic, he spoke of his struggle to insure the employees of his business. We need more Denver Riggleman’s in politics. My only suggestion is that he brush up on policy a little more.

Ed Gillespie: A-

Ed Gillespie is the definition of a Virginia statesmen. He shows polish and poise, and was respectful to all of the other candidates. Quick witted, sharp, and warm, Gillespie can win over anyone. Unlike the others, his biggest problem is that he’s too focused on policy.  My only suggestion would be to dial that back and try to be a bit more human. Not everyone in the room knows what a JLARC study is, nor does “block-granting Medicaid to the states” make sense to some people.  That’s not say he should dumb down his answers, but he needs to realize that not everybody is an expert on Richmond.

Corey Stewart: B-

It is very difficult for me to be objective about Corey Stewart. I find him annoying, to say the least. Thus, I’m being fair when I say that Mr. Stewart had a decent performance. The most surprising thing he said was his decision to support the decriminalization of marijuana, which, to be honest, sounded a bit opportunistic given the timing.  Just eight hours prior to the debate, Denver Riggleman announced his support for decriminalization.  I was also a bit surprised that Mr. Stewart did not engage his opponents on the issues.  If anybody was going to start the fireworks, I expected it would be Mr. Stewart.  Yet despite all of his talk on the internet, when facing Gillespie in person, he didn’t make a peep. Third, Stewart needs to stop hyper-focusing on the Confederate statue issue in Charlottesville. Let Charlottesville decide what to do in their municipal government, and recognize what they do has zero impact on the rest of the Commonwealth.  That kind of campaigning is just gimmicky.

Oh, and do me a favor – stop yelling into the microphone. Yikes.

Senator Frank Wagner: C-

Senator Wagner reminds me a lot of two former candidates I’ve heard speak, Senator Steve Martin and Senator Jeanne-Marie Devolites Davis. While both of them were solid legislators, they both suggested the same policy solutions that have been coming out of Richmond for thirty years. There’s nothing new about his campaign. It’s the same campaign that Senate Republicans have been running for decades. I also get the feeling Senator Wagner feels like he is entitled to the Governor’s Mansion because of his extended career in the Virginia government. While I respect his service, it’s clear that most Republicans don’t think waiting in line is the way this works anymore.

By the way, anyone remember what happened to Senator Davis and Senator Martin?  Their campaigns for statewide office didn’t make it.  The way Senator Wagner is behaving, he’s likely follow suit.

My overall opinion of the forum on Saturday was that it was a little dry. No one threw a punch.  Granted, this is generally how we want these things to go, but I guess I was expecting a bit more, given the way these candidates have been talking about each other during the campaign so far.

Editor’s Note: The author has endorsed Ed Gillespie for Governor and Jill Vogel for Lt. Governor.