Ed Gillespie, the underdog Republican in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race, is criticizing incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner for using taxpayer-funded private planes to jet around the state.
USA Today reported this week that two dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers are using private planes paid for by taxpayers for official travel. The story specifically notes that Warner racked up a bill of $8,500 last year during a particular four-day swing across the commonwealth.
In a Friday conference call with reporters, Gillespie criticized Warner for “telling us about a grueling trip while enjoying paired wines and cashmere blankets,” citing amenities listed on the website of the charter plane company.
“He wasn’t hitting the road,” Gillespie said. “He was flying in-style on a luxury jet from a company named Zen Air and charging $8,500 dollars for it. Reminds me of the story of Rosie Ruiz, the woman in the Boston Marathon to finish ahead of other runners.”
A campaign spokesman defended Warner’s choice to charter a plane.
“Senator Warner keeps a breakneck schedule. In 2013, he participated in more than 150 official events all over Virginia. Occasionally he uses charter flights to get from one end of the state to the other,” the campaign said in a statement to The Daily Caller. “But the fact is, Senator Warner is a careful steward of taxpayer dollars. During his time in the Senate, he has returned $1.6 million dollars in unspent office allowance to the Treasury.”
In an email Friday afternoon, Warner spokesman David Turner said Gillespie was wrong to accuse the senator of flying luxury jets: “Senator Warner has only used propeller planes, not luxury jets.”
Gillespie’s criticism comes as he is trying to close a substantial gap in polling with Warner. The Real Clear Politics poll has Warner at 51 percent, and Gillespie at 33.7 percent. Republicans, citing the campaign Gillespie has run, say they expect the race to get closer as Gillespie’s name-recognition improves.
Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and aide to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, is arguing the expenditures illustrate his argument that Warner is not the type of senator he has portrayed himself to be.
“In a 2010, Sen. Warner called for federal agencies to aggressively look for more ways to save taxpayer money…the problem is once again, Sen. Warner’s record doesn’t match his rhetoric,” Gillespie said.