Monday night’s West Virginia U.S. Senate debate told audiences little that they didn’t already know as Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican John Raese stuck to talking points. Speaking in sound bytes, Manchin called for the need to transcend party politics while Raese extolled the virtues of capitalism.
Throughout the debate, Manchin emphasized that he is an independent man who would work across party lines and do what is best for the country. He repeatedly knocked politicians for “putting their party first, their agenda second, and their country third.”
“We’ll do the same thing we did in West Virginia,” he said, when asked what positive things he would do for the country and West Virginia. “We brought all the sides together, we put our party aside, we didn’t play politics, we put our special interests at the door.”
During the hour, Raese pounded home the virtues of capitalism, the need for deregulation, and his belief that jobs are created in the private sector, not by government. He repeatedly attacked the Obama administration, working, as he has done in his TV ads, to link Manchin to the unpopular policies of President Obama.
Raese said during the debate that he would reject federal stimulus funds for West Virginia, arguing, “If you teach a man to fish he eats for a life time…if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day.”
“The federal government and the state government should be your partner, not your provider,” Manchin countered, saying that Raese’s free market ethos was not sufficient.
The two candidates agreed on the need for a balanced budget amendment, as well as the need to extend the Bush tax cuts. Raese wants the tax cuts to be made permanent. Manchin said that taxes were not something you “mess with” during an economic recession.
Raese and Manchin also agreed that cap and trade was bad for West Virginia, though throughout the campaign they managed to turn the subject into a point of contention anyway. “Cap and trade is not about the environment, it’s about controlling manufacturing,” Raese said, saying that man-caused global warming is a myth.
Manchin, who has been slammed by Raese’s ads claiming that he supports cap and trade, said, “I respectfully disagree with President Obama on cap and trade. It would be wrong for West Virginia.”
Asked why he would repeal the health care bill, Raese said, “Well, I don’t like socialism, to tell you the truth.” He continued, “I’d like to repeal every part of it…It is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House.”
Manchin was called on the fact that he changed his position on the health care bill, and asked to explain exactly what he would repeal in the law. He stressed his support for coverage for people with preexisting conditions, but said he would repeal the 1099 provisions and “the mandates.”
“There is a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree on,” he said, again emphasizing his transcendence of party politics. “That’s a pretty good start. That’s how we do things in West Virginia. We ought to try to fix what we have.
In a race rife with mudslinging and personal attacks, the debate itself was remarkably cordial.
Neither candidate seemed to be able to contain himself, however, when the moderator asked how President Obama became a focal point of the election – and whether he should be?
“Well I hate to inform my opponent, but Mr. Obama’s name will not be on the ballot for U.S. Senate in West Virginia. It’ll be me,” Manchin replied, going on to defend his independence, his non-partisan politics, and attack Raese for “trying to scare people that I’m going to do things that I’ve never done; that I’m going to let somebody control me or be a rubber stamp for somebody.”
“Sounds like a career politician to me,” Raese shot back.
The stakes are high in the West Virginia Senate race. Since the race is a special election for the Senate seat vacated by the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, the winner will take office and begin voting immediately during the lame duck session. The Republicans also consider winning this seat crucial to getting a majority in the Senate.
As the candidates met in debate Monday night, the Real Clear Politics average put Manchin ahead by just 2.5 points, though the latest poll in the race done Rasmussen found Raese ahead by 3 points.
The Mountain Party’s Jesse Johnson and the Constitution Party’s Jeff Becker also participated in the debate. Both lamented that they were not given equal time to respond to questions.