RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – On Tuesday, Virginians will have a chance to cast their ballots in the second election since the coronavirus pandemic started, an occasion that Gov. Ralph Northam pushed back by two weeks as a precaution.
One of the largest prizes at stake in the statewide primary is the chance to run against U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat whose fundraising totals loom over his Republican opponents so far. First elected in 2008, Warner has served two terms in the Senate thus far and currently holds the title of vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner also served as governor of Virginia from 2002-2006.
All three Republicans vying to challenge Warner in the General Election are seeking elected office for the first time. Even though a Republican hasn’t represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate in just over a decade, all three said they’re up to the challenge.
Capitol Bureau Reporter Jackie DeFusco interviewed the Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate ahead of the June 23 Primary. Below are their responses to questions about their candidacy and current events. Responses are in alphabetical order.
What should people know about your personal and professional experience? Why are you running for U.S. Senate and why now?
Alissa Baldwin, a Virginia native and a civics teacher for more than a decade, calls herself “the ultimate political outsider.” “I’m sick of politics as usual. I’m sick of the socialist, radical, leftist agenda being shoved at us,” Baldwin said. “I know the Constitution, I love people, I love service above self. So I thought ‘if not me–who and if not now–when?”
Daniel Gade served in the U.S. Army for 25 years. He said he was wounded in combat twice and decorated for valor. After retiring, Gade reinvented himself by obtaining a PhD in public policy, working in multiple Republican Administrations and teaching at American University. Gade said, throughout his life, his profession has always revolved around supporting and defending the Constitution. “The mission is different but the purpose is the same, which is to honor and protect this document,” he said. “I’ve already defended it with my life and lost a limb doing it.”
Thomas Speciale served in the U.S. Army for 28 years. He also served in the intelligence community for 10 years, including positions with National Counterterrorism Center and the Director of National Intelligence. “For the last four years I’ve been getting ready to beat Mark Warner,” Speciale said. “I know more about what is going on in the world than he does right now because I’ve been immersed in it for the last 10 years.” He said the main reason he is running is to counter what he calls ‘the coercive liberal ideology’ that supports disarming citizens, eliminating the electoral college and censoring hate speech.
It has become rare for a Republican to win a statewide office in Virginia. How do you overcome that?
Baldwin said she’s faithful to Republican creed but open to a diverse thought process because she believes solutions require innovative thinking. “If we do what we have always done then we get what we have always had,” she said. “I’m a grassroots candidate and I’ve worked hard as an educator to bring people together. I’m a great communicator and listener, and I’m willing to put in the work and not worry about the credit.”
Gade said Republicans have failed in the past by being ‘single issue’ candidates. He said the party has put too much focus on social issues alone and not enough on things like education and healthcare reform, alienating centrists. “Let’s expand this conversation. Let’s have a conversation that is gentle and kind to people who don’t share the full pro-life position, for example. I think that is how you win a lot of new voters,” Gade said.
Speciale said Republicans have made the mistake of offering up moderates rather than true conservatives, dimming enthusiasm among much of their base. He said they have also been ‘horrible’ at reaching out to an increasingly large immigrant community in the Commonwealth. “They’re conservatives. They have work ethic, they believe in family and they are people of faith. All three of those things are the opposite of the Democratic Party,” Speciale said.
We’ve seen more than three weeks of protests in Virginia surrounding police brutality and systematic racism. As both sides of the aisle put forth police reforms, what specific proposals would you support and what is your message to those protesting?
Baldwin said she supports the right to peacefully protest. She said she’s concerned by “agitators and bad actors” who are crossing the line into criminal behavioral. “Also, I’m someone who says defend not defund the police because to do that would be absurd. As a teacher, I understand that budget cuts make a job tougher, not easier,” Baldwin said. She said Congress needs to make sure police departments have the resources they need to support adequate training and community policing strategies.
Gade supports eliminating mandatory minimums. He said he would support looking at qualified immunity and the creation a national database of police misconduct to prevent fired officers from being rehired elsewhere. “I stand with the people who are horrified by what happened to Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. I’ll say their names,” Gade said. “What I’m not ok with is descending into lawlessness and then the idea that we’re going to defund the police is absolutely insane, primarily because it revictimizes the most vulnerable people in society.”
Speciale said protesters need to realize that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are ‘using them as pawns.’ He said violent tactics only serve as justification for police and heavy-handed responses. “All too often, a singular event that occurs is used as a false justification for tearing down the whole system,” Speciale said. “Most of these people don’t understand what the rest of the world is like.” Speciale said he does support more advanced training for officers and the addition of mental health response teams to accompany police.
We are more than three months into the coronavirus pandemic. What are your thoughts on the federal government’s response?
Baldwin said she understands the need to be cautious but a full shutdown has been damaging to the American economy. She said she would’ve supported the CARES Act but she doesn’t believe those whose work was uninterrupted by the pandemic should’ve gotten stimulus funds. “This didn’t come from a money tree somewhere. These are taxpayer dollars, that money should’ve been more targeted to help people most in need,” she said.
Gade, who has been specifically criticized by Democrats for downplaying the virus and denouncing mask guidelines, said sheltering-in-place made a lot of sense initially. More recently, he said some leaders have been hypocritical, supporting protests on police brutality but not President Donald Trump’s political rally during the pandemic. Gade said he supported funding initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and stimulus checks. He doesn’t support democratic calls to bail out local governments. “When it shifted from being about the virus to being about left wing priorities, that is when the cat was out of the bag,” Gade said.
Speciale said the country should never have shut down and masks shouldn’t be mandated. “I believe it has been taken advantage of by Democrats to exert more government control over our lives,” he said. Speciale said because of ‘government overreaction,’ future generations will be strapped with trillions in federal debt.
Late last week, the Supreme Court upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), allowing nearly 700,000 undocumented youth to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation. What is your stance on this issue?
Baldwin opposes DACA, which she called executive overreach by the Obama Administration. She said the U.S. needs to respect the rule of law, rewarding those who immigrate ‘the right way’ instead of those who come illegally. Baldwin said she supports a merit-based immigration system ‘that focuses on value added’ to America. “I love the uniqueness of America and how different we all are, but at the same time, we need to focus on America first,” she said.
Gade said DACA is an example of the executive branch feeling like they have to act because Congress isn’t doing its job. He said, in general, people should have to wait in line to obtain the privileges of citizenry, but these children should be approached with compassion. “There needs to be a way to account for the fact that many of these people were taken here against their will when they were children and they don’t know any other thing,” Gade said.
Speciale said, “It’s not rational, moral or ethical to think you’re going to evict a bunch kids that came to the United States and grew up here in America and they don’t even know their own country. It’s not their fault.” He said Congress needs to reform the immigration system in a way that accounts for the ease of modern travel. He said the U.S. needs immigrants to fill the demand for low-skill and high-skill labor to compete with countries like China.
This was a big year for gun control at the state level with those new laws taking effect July 1. Would you support any gun control legislation at the federal level?
Baldwin said, as a history teacher, she believes firearms are an important protection against tyranny. “I have been very clear that the only gun control I support is stance and trigger discipline because I think that most of the legislation that comes about from the gun-grabbing industry comes from fear of firearms. I would promote education, not actual gun control.
Gade said he wouldn’t support any gun control reforms either. He said there are some gaps in information sharing that need to be addressed, citing a Texas shooting in which the person responsible was allowed to purchase a firearm despite having a criminal violation in the U.S. Airforce.
Speciale also wouldn’t support any federal gun control measures. “We don’t have a gun violence problem in this country, we have a mental health problem,” he said. Speciale said the government isn’t doing enough to address suicide. He said Democratic leaders running major cities have failed to address violence, poverty, hopelessness and homelessness.
What is your stance on the federal government’s role in education?
Baldwin: Even though she’s a long-time public school teacher, Baldwin is an adamant supporter of school choice. She said the authority should reside in the hands of parents, who she believes are children’s first teachers. Baldwin also said that per-pupil money should follow the child, something some education advocates argue would gut public schools of a key funding source. “If government is out of the business of education, teachers have more autonomy and can do better by the students,” Baldwin added.
Gade said he doesn’t support abolishing the Department of Education, as the state’s Democratic party asserted in a recent press release. “If I said that I was clearly mistaken,” Gade said. He said the federal government has an important role in setting goals but it’s not their place to determine how localities and families educate their children.
Speciale said, other than providing resources, the federal government should be involved in education as little as possible. He said it is critical to increase investment in STEM and vocational training. “We need to become explorers and inventors again,” Speciale said. “I want all of our kids to be super brains about technology. We have to think big.”