By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK - U.S. Sen. Mark Warner brought a message of conciliation and bipartisanship to the Republican stronghold of Shenandoah County during a campaign stop Friday at the Fort Valley Nursery and Garden Center.
Warner, a Democrat, has worked hard to portray himself as a moderate, business-minded Democrat in his first term in the Senate and while he was governor from 2002 until 2006.
A crowd of 112 heard Warner speak and then questioned him on a broad range of subjects, all of them pertaining to domestic issues.
Warner said the passage of additional money for the scandal-plagued Veterans Administration earlier this week was a regrettably rare instance of bipartisan cooperation.
"The VA was one example of Congress getting it right but we shouldn't need a crisis to do our job," Warner said.
Warner touted his efforts to connect with Republican members of the Senate and his support from former state GOP lawmakers.
"This year I had more former Republican legislators endorsing me in 2014 than I did in 2008," Warner said, citing former U.S. Sen. John Warner as a prominent example. "I believe the way you get stuff done, you have to be bipartisan.
"Virtually every piece of legislation I work on, I start with a Republican partner. The way you solve problems is from the center out, not from the extremes."
Warner described the more than $17 trillion national debt as "the single issue I am most obsessed with" and called on Republicans to abandon their opposition to tax increases and Democrats to support changes in Social Security and Medicare as the only solution to the problem.
Warner said members of his party "are going to have to acknowledge that Medicare and Social Security are the greatest programs ever but we've got to make some changes in them or they won't be here 40 years from now."
Warner called for a simpler and fairer tax code as another useful step that would mean, "putting a little more in the till now, not to grow government, but to start paying down that debt."
Warner also said simplifying the tax code could reduce income inequality.
No one brought up the violence in the Middle East and Ukraine during the question and answer session but Warner said in an interview afterward that the sanctions against Russia announced earlier this week by President Obama and the European Union don't go far enough.
"I think we live in a really dangerous world," Warner said.
Warner said little about Ed Gillespie, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate. Warner referred to Gillespie only as "my opponent" and told the audience at one point that Gillespie had described himself as a "partisan warrior, and the last thing we need is another partisan warrior."
Paul Logan, a spokesman for the Gillespie campaign, replied to Warner's criticism by email: "Mark Warner's press releases sound bipartisan, but his votes are very partisan, supporting President Obama 97 percent of the time and voting for $7 trillion in new debt."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org