In the race to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States Senate, incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) is challenged by Ed Gillespie (R) and Robert Sarvis (L). Warner was first elected to the Senate in 2008 and is serving his first term. He had previously served one term as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Each of the fifty states have two seats in the Senate, for a total of one hundred seats. There is no representation, voting or non-voting, for U.S. territories or the District of Columbia. Senators serve six-year terms, and elections are held on a staggered schedule with roughly one-third of the Senate up for election every two years. This year, thirty-six seats are in contention.
The Democratic Party currently holds a 53-45 majority over the Republican Party in the Senate. Two seats are held by independents who caucus with the Democratic Party, giving the Democrats an effective 55-45 majority. Currently, both of Virginia’s Senate seats are held by Democrats.
Mark Warner (Democrat; Incumbent)
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), a one-term incumbent, received the Democratic Party nomination for reelection unchallenged. Warner grew up in Illinois and Connecticut, and cites his eighth grade social studies teacher as the one who inspired his political interests. He majored in political science at George Washington University, and went on to earn a law degree from Harvard Law School.
Warner, however, never practiced law, instead starting two small businesses which both failed. Although his own early businesses were unsuccessful, he made heavy investments in cellular and telecommunications businesses and amassed a significant fortune. Warner was among the earliest major investors in FleetCall, the company that later became Nextel Communications, which merged with Sprint in 2005 and is today the third largest wireless provider in the United States. He also founded Capital Wireless, a telecommunications investment firm.
According to Roll Call’s 2013 list, Warner is the third richest member of Congress and has a combined net worth of about ninety-six million dollars.
His political career started in 1989 when he managed Governor Douglas Wilder’s (D-VA) campaign, narrowly defeating Marshall Coleman (R). He also chaired the Virginia Democratic Party from 1993 to 1995. In 1996, he made his first attempt at elective office when he challenged Senator John Warner (R-VA) (no relation) in a unique ‘Warner vs. Warner’ contest. Mark Warner lost 52-47, and John Warner served in the Senate until his retirement in 2009.
In 2001, Warner earned the Democratic Party nomination for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he faced then-Attorney General Mark Earley (R-VA). Virginia’s state constitution prohibits governors from serving multiple consecutive terms, so outgoing Governor Jim Gilmore (R-VA) was ineligible for reelection. Warner defeated Earley 52-47 and served four years in office. He, too, was ineligible for reelection under the Virginia state constitution, but was succeeded by his same-party Lieutenant Governor, Tim Kaine (D-VA), who also now serves with Warner in the Senate.
Warner campaigned for governor by painting himself as a moderate, business-friendly Democrat who would apply business principles to the work of the state and cooperate with his Republican opposition. Following his election, he proceeded to live up to those promises. With the support of the Republican majorities in the General Assembly, Warner cut spending and was able to balance the budget even in the recession that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, was one of the targets of that attack). The Commonwealth maintained its AAA bond rating, the highest possible, and won awards that hailed us as the best managed state in the union.
In perhaps his most notable accomplishment as governor, Warner initiated a major reform effort at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). When Warner took office from his inept Republican predecessor, VDOT completed only fifty percent of their projects on-budget, and an embarrassingly low twenty-one percent on-time. By the end of Warner’s four years in office, this had improved to eighty-eight percent on-budget and eighty-two percent on-time.
Warner worked closely with Republican and Democratic legislators to reform Virginia’s tax code. Although food and income taxes were lowered, the sales tax and the despised car tax—which Gilmore had promised to eliminate years earlier—increased so much that the state gained about 1.5 billion dollars in ill-gotten revenue. Two-thirds of this windfall turned out to have been completely unnecessary to balance the budget; in fact, we ended up with a one-billion dollar surplus. Warner also campaigned in favor of two regional transportation sales taxes, both of which were rejected by voters in referendums. Taxing our way through a recession is a dangerous business, and it is by sheer luck—and the fact that so many Virginians are employed by the federal government and continued receiving raises even when their private-sector neighbors did not—that this did not result in economic disaster.
Despite these misguided tax increases, Virginians gave Warner high marks as governor. His approval ratings were consistently in the sixties and seventies, even peaking at an incredible eighty percent in some polls. In 2005, Virginia’s voters elected Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA) to be Warner’s successor, largely because Warner had recommended that they do so. (In that race, Kaine and Attorney General Jerry Kilgore [R-VA] were such poor candidates that I could not bring myself to endorse either one.)
In 2008, Warner secured the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Warner, who had decided to retire. His inept but well-intentioned gubernatorial predecessor, Jim Gilmore, secured the Republican nomination. Based on Warner’s moderate and effective administration of the state, especially contrasted against Gilmore’s long list of failures and missteps in Richmond, I gave the Off on a Tangent endorsement to Warner. I did, however, express some concerns. I was not happy with the aforementioned tax increases, particularly Warner’s refusal to complete the phase-out of the car tax. I also condemned his open support for the socialist bank and automotive bailouts of 2008. And yes, I did raise the issue that he is a Democrat, and would likely vote in favor of at least some of the misguided big-government initiatives then being proposed by the Democratic Party and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), then the Democratic nominee for president.
Ultimately, I concluded my endorsement saying, “In Virginia, Warner was an imperfect but effective leader who was able to bring Democrats and Republicans to the table on a number of critical issues. I have no doubt he will do the same in Washington.”
As Senator, Warner has not lived up to the promises he made in 2008. The man who was a moderate and well-liked governor, earning endorsements (and votes) from many conservatives like myself, seems to have been absorbed into the hard-left Democratic Party machine in Washington. This is a political betrayal of the highest order, and all Virginians should spend some time contrasting the leftist senator that we got against the pragmatic moderate that we voted for when went to the polls six years ago.
Warner claims that he has maintained a fiscal conservatism, and touts his efforts to end taxpayer bailouts and find budgetary compromises, but these accomplishments mean little coming from a politician who loudly supported those bailouts in the first place, and has voted with President Barack Obama (D) and the Democratic Party on every record-setting deficit spending bill to come to a vote. Warner also wants to strengthen the very entitlement programs that threaten to bankrupt the United States, and has precious little to say about reforming those programs.
Warner voted with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to pass the Affordable Care Act, a health reform bill colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare,’ which has resulted in skyrocketing health insurance premiums and led to thousands of Virginians losing access to the insurance plans—and the doctors—they were promised they could keep. Although he does support some common-sense reforms to the law, he does not address the serious constitutional issues with it, nor does he regret voting for a disastrous bill that was—and still is—opposed by the majority of Americans. Worse, when it became clear that ObamaCare would require religious individuals to violate their conscience, and that federal dollars (despite promises to the contrary) would be used to fund abortions, Warner took no steps to protect either religious liberty or the human rights of the unborn; indeed, he has actively opposed every effort to right these wrongs.
This speaks to the fact that Warner, like his party, has abandoned most of the venerable liberal principles that deal with the protection of civil liberties and human rights. Warner denies the right of every human being to live, and euphemistically refers to abortion as ‘health care.’ Warner also co-sponsored the DISCLOSE Act, an unconstitutional bill that was designed to muzzle the free speech rights of voluntary-membership interest groups. And he continues to vote against bills designed to restore and protect the First Amendment freedom of religion.
Warner was, however, one of only sixteen Democratic members of the Senate who voted against a nonsensical ‘assault weapons’ ban and an equally nonsensical ban on ‘high capacity’ magazines, which makes him one of the strongest supporters of the right to keep and bear arms on the Democratic side of the aisle. However, he did vote in favor of a U.N. arms control treaty that is opposed by the major self-defense rights organizations.
It is unclear where Warner stands on the Fourth Amendment violations routinely committed by the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency, but he has taken no action as Senator to rein them in. Warner has voted against the principles of net neutrality, and appears to support a model of the Internet where service providers are free to restrict your access for their own monetary gain.
Ed Gillespie (Republican)
Five Republican Party candidates sought the nomination to stand in the November general election against incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), and one withdrew before the party held its convention to select its nominee. The convention was held on June 7 in Roanoke, Virginia, and Ed Gillespie gained about sixty percent of the vote before his nearest competitor, Shak Hill, conceded and motioned that Gillespie be nominated by acclamation.
Gillespie is the son of an Irish immigrant and grew up working in his parents’ grocery store. He worked his way through college at the Catholic University of America and joined the Republican Party in 1984 after having been inspired by President Ronald Reagan (R). He has spent much of his career as a party operative, first as a telephone solicitor in 1985, but eventually becoming a high-ranking aide to Representative Dick Armey (R-TX 26th). In this role, Gillespie was one of the principle drafters of the ‘Contract With America,’ which was instrumental in the Republican Party’s record-breaking gains in the 1994 congressional elections.
Between 1996 and 2008, Gillespie served in a number of roles with the Republican National Committee and as a strategist for a number of Republican candidates. He was the press secretary for Representative John Kasich’s (R-OH 12th) failed 2000 presidential campaign, and after Kasich withdrew Gillespie became a senior communications advisor for President George W. Bush’s (R) campaign. In 2002, Gillespie served as a strategist for Senator Elizabeth Dole’s (R-NC) successful Senate campaign.
Gillespie became the chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2003 and remained in that role until 2005. From 2006 to 2007, he was the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, before he was brought onto the White House staff to serve as a counselor to President Bush, a role he kept until Bush’s second term ended in January 2009. Later in 2009, Gillespie served as the general chairman of Governor Bob McDonnell’s (R-VA) successful gubernatorial run. He led the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2010 and 2011, and then became a senior advisor on Governor Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) failed 2012 presidential campaign.
Although Gillespie has a long history in Republican politics, this is his first attempt at seeking elective office.
If elected to the Senate, Gillespie promises that he would work to enact reasonable, pro-growth economic policies. He points out, correctly, that President Barack Obama’s (D) economic policies—which have been supported by Warner—have kept us mired in a malaise where prices are going up but wages aren’t keeping pace. It is critically important that we lower taxes, drastically reduce government spending, reduce needless regulations, and devolve decision-making authorities from Washington back to the states—and to the individuals—who are better suited to manage their affairs. He supports a significant increase in domestic energy production and common-sense endeavors like the Keystone XL pipeline, all of which have been stymied by absurd regulations and restrictions imposed by the Obama administration.
Gillespie also supports a ‘repeal and replace’ of the disastrous Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare,’ which has contributed to skyrocketing insurance premiums and caused many Virginians to lose the coverage that they were happy with. The law is clearly unconstitutional, and is clearly damaging, but the Republican Party has yet to propose a viable alternative at either the state or federal levels. Gillespie, like so many other Republican candidates, provides few details of what ‘repeal and replace’ would really mean.
While Warner, the supposedly fiscally responsible incumbent, once supported a balanced budget amendment, he voted against it when it came before him in the Senate. Gillespie, for his part, promises that he would fight to get our fiscal house in order, and says that he—like the Warner we once knew—would actually vote for a balanced budget amendment if it came before him. He has some experience in this area; Gillespie was a senior congressional aide to a high-ranking Republican when the Republican majority in the House of Representatives joined with President Bill Clinton (D) to enact the first balanced federal budget in a quarter of a century. However he also once claimed that the Republican Party no longer stood for limited government, so Gillespie may not be a reliable vote in this area.
Gillespie’s campaign focuses, first and foremost, on economic matters. He goes in to great detail about the aforementioned pro-growth policies, including a repeal of ObamaCare, energy development, tax and regulatory relief, and education reform. Although these are important, nothing is more important than protecting and restoring our most fundamental civil liberties and human rights.
In this area, Gillespie does reasonably well. He acknowledges the fundamental right of every human being to live, the right upon which all others are based, which is something that I cannot say about the incumbent. Gillespie also affirms the First Amendment freedom of speech (individually and collectively), as well as the freedom of religion. He also takes a stronger position than Warner in defense of the right to keep and bear arms, opposing irrational gun control laws and any U.N. treaty that may restrict Virginians’ human rights.
However, Gillespie—like so many other candidates—is suspiciously quiet about where he stands on the Fourth Amendment abuses of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the National Security Agency (NSA). These agencies must not be permitted to continue shredding our civil rights. Gillespie also has no public position on Internet freedom, however he has received over a million dollars in ‘consulting fees’ from anti-net neutrality groups and corporations, so it seems unlikely that he would vote in favor of an open, unrestricted Internet. He will likely toe the Republican party line and support service providers’ efforts to restrict net access for their own gain.
All-in-all, Gillespie is a Republican Party insider who will likely vote in lock-step with his party on most issues . . . much like Barbara Comstock in the 10th District House race. Unless he tells us otherwise, we can expect that he will vote correctly on reining in spending, and on protecting the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms. He will likely vote incorrectly, however, on putting a stop to the Fourth Amendment abuses at the TSA and NSA, and protecting Internet freedom.
Robert Sarvis (Libertarian)
Robert Sarvis stands as the Libertarian Party nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia. Sarvis is a Virginia native who holds a mathematics degree from Harvard University, a Master’s in Economics from George Mason University, and a law degree from the New York University School of Law. He has worked as a small business owner, software developer, math teacher, and a lawyer. Sarvis ran in 2011 for the 35th District seat in the Virginia Senate as a Republican, losing 62-36 against incumbent state Senator Dick Saslaw (D-VA 35th). After losing that election, he became active in the Libertarian Party of Virginia.
In 2013, Sarvis stood as the Libertarian Party nominee for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia against now-Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA). McAuliffe and Cuccinelli were both deeply unlikeable in the eyes of the electorate, and Sarvis earned a surprising seven percent of the vote—a rare showing for a third-party candidate in Virginia. Some have claimed that Sarvis was a ‘spoiler’ for Cuccinelli, however there is little evidence to support that assertion and it is likely that Sarvis pulled support from both sides.
Sarvis, like most Libertarians, is a strong supporter of economic freedom and would work to reduce taxes and repeal unnecessary regulations. He, like Gillespie, promises to support balancing the budget, but goes further by promising to slash spending, simplify the tax code, and reform the entitlement programs that threaten to bankrupt us. Sarvis is also strong on most issues relating to civil liberties and human rights, voicing strong support for the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms.
Unlike any of his opponents, he takes a strong position in favor of the Fourth Amendment and against the National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance program. He would likely also fight the Transportation Security Administration’s Fourth Amendment abuses as well. It is unclear where he stands on protecting Internet freedoms.
Sarvis shies away from taking a strong position on the most fundamental human right of all, the right of every human being to live. He avoids this topic entirely in his campaign today, but in last year’s gubernatorial race he labeled the right to life a ‘politically intractable’ issue and took no clear position. He also opposed common-sense safety regulations and informed consent laws that would require abortionists to follow the same standards that all other doctors are expected to follow, which places him—with the Democratic Party—squarely opposed to women’s health and safety. This is a black mark on an otherwise consistently pro-liberty platform.
In 2008, I endorsed the election of now-Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). In November of that year, I voted for him. I believed him to be a moderate pragmatist who would not toe the Democratic Party line, but would vote his conscience and serve, first and foremost, the people of Virginia. I had some significant disagreements with him (and might not have voted for him if the Republicans had fielded anybody but former Governor Jim Gilmore [R-VA]), but I expected that he would be honorable. I expected that he would live up to his oath of office to the best of his ability. I expected that he would work with the political opposition to find solutions. I expected that he would protect our most fundamental rights. I expected that Senator Warner would be very much like Governor Warner.
But we were mislead. Warner was a moderate pragmatist as Governor of Virginia; he has been a partisan hack in the Senate. Out of all of the endorsements that I have made on this site over the years, my endorsement of Mark Warner in 2008 is the only one that I wish I could take back. No other candidate I have ever endorsed has so betrayed the people who voted for him.
Warner has consistently voted against the right to life, against the freedom of speech, and against the freedom of religion. He has been more reasonable with regard to the right to keep and bear arms, but has done nothing to restore our Fourth Amendment rights that have been routinely abused by the Transportation Security Administration and National Security Agency. He has opposed Internet freedom. He voted for, and unapologetically supports, the disastrous Affordable Care Act, the health reform law colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare.’ This law has resulted in skyrocketing premiums, caused many Virginians to lose their coverage or access to their doctors, resulted in federal funding for abortions for the first time in decades, and contributed to the increased benefit costs that are causing businesses to raise prices and be stingy with raises. Warner has repeatedly voted for bloated federal spending bills, and has opposed every effort to get our fiscal house in order.
Needless to say, we should not send Warner back for a second term. So now we must determine who should replace him. There are two remaining choices on the ballot, Ed Gillespie (R) and Robert Sarvis (L).
Gillespie is a standard-issue machine Republican, and will likely vote correctly on the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms. He will likely stand with his fellow Republicans in trying to obstruct the massive deficit spending of President Barack Obama’s (D) administration and his Democratic Party colleagues in Congress. Gillespie will probably support pragmatic but insufficient economic polices. He will likely be very weak in efforts to restore the Fourth Amendment and protect Internet freedom. Sarvis, on the other hand, is a standard-issue Libertarian. He also strongly supports the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms, but also seeks to protect our Fourth Amendment rights. It is unclear where he stands on Internet freedom, and he is disastrously tepid on the fundamental right to life.
Closely mirroring the Tenth District race, Sarvis comes out ahead on fiscal responsibility, taxation, the economy, and fighting against illegal surveillance programs. Gillespie is stronger on the fundamental human right to life, women’s health and safety, political experience, and prospects of victory. Gillespie falls short of Sarvis in fiscal conservatism and tax and economic policies, but still comes out far ahead of the incumbent. Both candidates can likely be trusted on First and Second Amendment issues. Both are likely to support repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Neither is likely to support Internet freedom. So how do we choose?
In the Tenth District race, faced with a similarly difficult choice between Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-VA 34th) and William ‘Bill’ Redpath (L), I was forced to endorse Comstock because it was more important to prevent Fairfax Supervisor John Foust’s (D-Dranesville) election to the House than it was to vote for the nominally better of two nearly-even candidates.
The dynamics of the Senate race, however, are quite different. Warner is still riding a wave of [increasingly inexplicable] popularity, and he is almost guaranteed to win. Recent polls show him far ahead of Gillespie, and there is no sign of any significant narrowing. Because this is unlikely to be a close race, there is no need to make a strategic vote to try and prevent the worst candidate from winning. The worst candidate will win anyway. Instead, we can send a different kind of message. We can tell the Republican Party that lock-step machine Republicans are not going to cut it anymore. We can tell the Republican Party that if they don’t embrace real fiscal conservatism, and real and consistent support for civil liberties, human rights, and limited government, then their electoral prospects for the future will shrivel up and disappear in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Republican Party has to make a choice: it can continue to put forth old-guard big-government candidates and lose elections, or it can embrace the growing ‘small-l’ libertarian wing of the party and start getting our republic back in order.
I endorse the election of Robert Sarvis to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States Senate, both because he is a better candidate than Gillespie, and because a strong turnout for Sarvis will help communicate to the Republican Party of Virginia that it cannot continue to nominate tepid party-insiders who will not stand consistently for limited government, human rights, and economic freedom.
The only thing that gives me pause about supporting Sarvis is his reluctance to acknowledge and defend the fundamental right to life. However, Sarvis does support repealing ObamaCare, which began federally funding abortion for the first time in decades, and I strongly suspect he would oppose any other efforts to federally fund abortions or to trample individual and collective conscience rights.
As such, on the actual issues that are liable to come before Sarvis if elected, he would likely vote on the pro-life side even if those votes are not motivated by a pro-life worldview. I still urge Sarvis to reconsider his views on this all-important subject; all of the rights that Libertarians seek to defend mean absolutely nothing if we do not first recognize that every human being has the right to live.