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Last week, WSLS TV, Channel 10, presented what was the first televised debate between two of the three Fifth District candidates for Congress.
It really wasn’t much of a debate in the real sense; both men simply sat at a news desk alongside each other and moderator Jay Warren for a little less than 30 minutes.
It should be noted, too, that incumbent Democrat Tom Perriello and Republican challenger Robert Hurt appeared together, but without independent “tea party” candidate Jeffrey Clark. Hurt continues to exhibit an interesting if irrational fear of appearing with Clark.
As I said, it didn’t last very long, but it lasted long enough to give honest observers a taste of why Tom Perriello won two years ago: he’s smart, informed, articulate, and totally prepared to defend his voting record and his approach to being a member of Congress.
Before I issue any specific pronouncements about Hurt, I’ll be glad to offer this: No, I’m not exactly a neutral or detached observer of this Fifth District campaign. I want Democrats to hold the House and I’d love to see Perriello win.
But I’ve been following politics for almost five decades now and I’ve watched what seems like a few million debates. I also know a right-wing extremist when I see one and I don’t believe Robert Hurt belongs in that category.
It just seemed to me that Mr. Hurt looked like he was a bit out of his league. Perriello repeatedly cited chapter and verse for his votes and his beliefs about government. Robert Hurt seemed to be auditioning for a role that he’s not quite ready to play.
Jay Warren set the tone at the beginning by getting both candidates to say they believed the federal budget should be balanced. He said we’d need to do at least one of three things: increase taxes, take on entitlements (non-discretionary spending such as Medicare and Social Security), or cut defense spending, which is nearly a quarter of the entire budget.
Perriello said “everything is on the table” and that he’d consider some re-working of entitlements but he gave no specifics. He did say he’d favor eliminating federal subsidies for corn ethanol as an alternative fuel source, believing that the program has failed.
But Warren couldn’t get Hurt to name one specific program he’d eliminate. To his credit, Hurt did say that he considered Social Security to be “a promise made and a promise that must be kept.” But his zeal to balance the budget seems unaccompanied by any specific plan to get it done.
On health care, Hurt repeated the tired old claim (which I covered last week) that Perriello “didn’t listen” to the district. Yet he also appeared to admit that he hadn’t read the health care bill he vows to repeal.
When Warren reminded viewers that the new law means insurance companies can’t deny coverage over “pre-existing conditions,” and that young people can stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, Hurt seemed to agree that those were good achievements.
He said they were goals we could “work toward” if the law is repealed. But wait a minute….they don’t need to be “worked toward” at all. Those provisions are already law, thanks to what conservatives deride as “Obama care.”
Hurt even reminded me a bit of Richard Nixon in 1960. He stared off into space while his opponent was speaking and seldom ever looked at Tom Perriello.
If he wants to win, Hurt needs to look more polished and better in command of the facts the next time he debates.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.