A Closer Look at Virginia's U.S. Senate Race

Oct 22, 2020

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, left, and Republican challenger Daniel Gade, right, prepare for a debate at a television studio earlier this month.
Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

The race for president will be at the top of the ticket this year. But the race just underneath that will be the election for United States Senator.

Republican Daniel Gade has a very clear message about incumbent Senator Mark Warner, and it’s a phrase he uses often. 

"Career politicians have kicked the can down the road for far too long.”

"That’s what you’ve got when you elect career politicians."

"Career politicians of both parties, including my party, have made mistakes on this."

“So if you’re sick of career politicians, let’s choose a different path,” Gade says.

For Warner, it’s a reversal of fortune. When he was first elected governor, he took heat from some quarters for never having served in elected office before. Now he’s seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate, and he responds to Gade’s attack this way. 

“Simply calling someone a career politician over and over and over again doesn’t change the facts," Warner explains. "The truth is what I’m counting on the most is that Virginians know me, and they know my record.”

Gade is a combat-wounded vet who’s now a professor at American University. On the campaign trail, he’s talked about his support for limited government and the free market.

One issue where Warner and Gade have clashed repeatedly is health care, especially protections for pre-existing conditions. Gade has criticized Warner’s support for the Affordable Care Act, chastising him as casting what he calls the “deciding vote” on Obamacare. He’s also rejected Warner’s attacks that he does not support protections for people with preexisting conditions. 

“You can’t see my body because I’m behind this podium. But I have a pre-existing condition myself because I got my leg blown off in Iraq. And since then I’ve worked with people with disabilities. I’ve been on the National Council on Disability," says Gade. "There’s nobody who cares more about people with pre-existing conditions in this country than I do, and the fact that he’s putting out these ridiculous mailers. Listen, 2014 called Mark. It wants its campaign back. That’s not who I am. It’s a lie.”

Warner says Gade can’t have it both ways.

“If my opponent wants to change his position, and say he supported my decision along with John McCain to keep the ACA, he can make that change," Warner says. "But you can’t go out and criticize me for the ACA and then cherry pick which parts of the ACA you want to preserve. It just doesn’t work that way.” 

The polls have Warner with a double digit lead over Gade, and Warner has raised more than ten times as much money. But Warner was also perceived to be way ahead when he almost lost his last election to Ed Gillespie. And Republicans are hoping they can build on that success when all the votes are counted this year.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.