GOOCHLAND, Va. —In their first and perhaps only debate in the race for a U.S. House seat, Democratic challenger Wayne Powell said Monday that Rep. Eric Cantor, R-7th is the problem with Washington — and Cantor said Powell is not the solution.
Powell, a 61-year-old Midlothian lawyer and retired Army colonel, went on the attack early and often, charging Cantor with playing “the blame game” to explain why Washington has failed to solve the nation’s economic problems.
Cantor, 49, the House majority leader, said his plan of not raising taxes, reducing regulation, limiting spending and opposing President Barack Obama’s health care law stood in stark contrast to Powell’s positions on the issues.
The event, sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live by C-SPAN2 from CarMax headquarters in Goochland County, was the most public opportunity yet for the underfunded and less-known Powell to take his message to voters in the 7th District, where Cantor has served since 2001 and won election six times.
Powell was animated throughout much of the debate, freely gesturing with his arms and raising his voice numerous times when making points to Cantor, whom he described as “Eric” on numerous occasions.
Cantor, whose podium was inches from Powell’s on the makeshift debate stage in the CarMax gymnasium, remained calm and measured throughout the event, and did not return fire on a number of Powell’s attacks. But Cantor on several occasions referenced “negative” campaigning and suggested Powell’s approach “underestimates the decency of the voters of the 7th District.”
In his opening remarks Cantor said he is mindful of his constituents, offering the example of a working single mother in Goochland who might be worried about making ends meet.
“Her challenge represents a challenge for all of us,” Cantor said, saying he and Powell offer different remedies. Cantor said he supports a path that includes lower taxes, less regulation and repeal of the health care overhaul.
Cantor said Powell’s “path leads to higher taxes, more regulation and frankly less jobs and more dependency,” and that Powell’s “negative and personal attacks are what impeded progress in Washington.”
Powell accused Cantor of being out of touch with the people of the district and beholden to the big donors in the pharmaceutical, energy and financial industries that have pumped millions into his campaign.
“You’re so removed from reality I don’t think you know what a small business is unless it’s a hedge fund,” Powell said.
The debate’s moderator, political analyst Bob Holsworth, pitched questions to the candidates on issues ranging from federal spending and the federal health care law to energy issues.
Cantor said he supports the extension of the existing Bush tax cuts for a year, which he said would enable Congress to reform the tax code to make it simpler and more fair.
Powell charged that Cantor wants to “wait yet another year to do what we’ve got to do.” He charged that Cantor is “a person who is dysfunctional, a person who will not cooperate, (who) will not sit down with the opposing party.”
Powell said he supports the position of Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee for Senate, who argues for maintaining the Bush tax cuts for those who earn less than $500,000. The president wants to preserve the tax cuts for those who earn less than $250,000.
Referring to potential automatic defense cuts, Cantor said: “The reason why the sequester is in place” is because the president would not go along with spending cuts. Cantor said looming deep defense cuts must be averted, but the answer is not new taxes.
Powell said: “It’s the blame game, ‘It’s Mr. Obama’s problem.’ No, it’s Mr. Cantor’s problem. It’s the Congress’ problem. They’re the ones who create the budget.”
The debate was the first time Cantor has debated a general election opponent in 10 years. Powell said afterward that he would press Cantor to hold two more debates before the Nov. 6 election.