This Saturday at 11am Ed Gillespie (R) and Mark Warner (D) will square off in a debate that is being hosted by the Virginia Bar Association. This first debate will foretell the campaign strategy and messaging that both campaigns have chosen to pursue for this election, so it ought to be interesting to watch.
I thought I would make some predictions about how this first debate will proceed. Feel free to offer your own thoughts as well in the comment section.
MARK WARNER WILL
- Highlight his business background and entrepreneurial experience.
- Champion how he works across the aisle to get things done (which is such a falsehood).
- Focus on how all Americans have a fundamental right to health care rather than focusing on the significant shortcoming of Obamacare.
- Walk the line on immigration, attempting to make his position indistinguishable from Gillespie’s position.
- Construct a false narrative that minimum wage, Violence Against Women Act, and Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Ruling are all about Republican’s (and Gillespie’s) war on women.
- Talk about the cost of college education and his plan to restructure and forgive loan debt.
- Make the ludicrous claim that while Gillespie is a DC insider, Warner (who is a DC politician) is somehow a business outsider.
- Link Gillespie simultaneously to Karl Rove and the Tea Party (that will require some rhetorical acrobatics, but it just wouldn’t be a Democrat debate without vilifying the Tea Party).
- Distance himself from Obama, making every effort to present himself as a centrist-Independent by mentioning his endorsement of liberal Republicans.
- Sound like a neo-conservative Republican in regards to foreign policy.
ED GILLESPIE WILL:
- Highlight his middle-class background.
- Hammer Warner’s 97% voting record with Obama.
- Make liberty, the economy and jobs the primary focus of the debate. Discuss the importance of needing a governing majority in the Senate that will focus on free market solutions to revive the languishing economy.
- Focus on the failure of Obamacare and how it severely restricts freedom, choice and quality.
- Discuss how Obamacare is killing business, crippling the economy, increasing premiums, and inversely impacting health care quality.
- Thread the needle on immigration, providing one or two examples for solutions, but staying purposefully vague on solutions to avoid upsetting many Republicans who might bristle at his view on immigration.
- Emphasize that job opportunities and economic stability are the keys to empowerment and prosperity for women.
- Talk about the high unemployment rate of students graduating from college and the need to cultivate a prosperous economic environment for full employment.
- Link Warner to Obama’s failures and Harry Reid’s recalcitrant Senate.
- Identify with average Americans compared to Warner’s 1% status. (Gillespie can’t associate himself with any particular Republican leader since McDonnell is embroiled in a legal battle, Republicans don’t hold national or statewide office, and Cantor just got booted from office.)
- Criticize Obama’s handling of Benghazi and Bergdahl that cost American lives and traded terrorists for a traitor, tying Warner closely to those atrocious missteps.
It will be intriguing to see who is the aggressor and who plays it safe by focusing on their own positive message. There are certainly risks for Gillespie if he chooses to be aggressive in the first debate before defining himself to the public. However, given the overall popularity of Warner and the polling spread between the two candidates, Gillespie may not have the luxury to wait. The real Mark Warner needs to be exposed. It will take months for people to form a contrary opinion about Mark Warner that is reflected in the polls, so Gillespie will need to strike a careful balance between introducing himself to the public, laying out his vision Virginia, and effectively contrasting himself to the “real” Mark Warner.
Warner would do best to focus on the positive, but he might not be able to resist the tired ‘War on Women’ and evil Tea Party mantra. Warner will need to be careful though, because Virginians may quickly decide they don’t like the negative Warner, since it is so contrary to the image that Warner has built for himself as the centrist statesman who doesn’t volley in partisan politics. It may demonstrate vulnerability and weakness by an incumbent that won’t sit well with voters.
Be sure to tune in to watch the debate and see how closely the narrative follows the aforementioned. Gillespie is encouraging everyone to attend a debate watching party or stream it live from his website. We will be sure to offer our analysis this weekend as well!