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Clear choice

The second and final debate between the two major candidates to represent Virginia's new 5th Congressional District took place at Warrenton Middle School Monday night.

It was a lively affair that rewarded all those who braved showers to come see incumbent Republican Congressman Robert Hurt and his challenger, Democrat John Douglass, a retired brigadier general who lives in Fauquier County.

It was a close, well-fought and entertaining debate, we thought, but it didn't take the candidates long to each claim victory.

"Tonight, 5th District Virginians once again witnessed Washington, D.C. insider and lobbyist John Douglass demonstrate that he is in lockstep with the same failed, job crushing policies of President Obama and Nancy Pelosi -- the same failed policies that Central and Southside Virginians rejected in 2010 and reject today," according to an emailed Hurt release that awaited us when we arrived in the office on Tuesday morning.

"Not only did John Douglass reaffirm that he is out of touch with 5th District voters, but he continues to mislead 5th District voters by making false statements and distorting the truth....

"Robert is the only person in this race who will fight to rein in the out of control spending in Washington, adopt a responsible domestic energy policy, and reduce burdensome regulations so that our family farms and Main Street businesses have the ability to hire and expand...."

Not so fast, the general's camp responded.

"Tonight Gen. Douglass went two for two in debates, picking up the cheers while corporate Congressman Hurt earned the only two boos of the night," Douglass campaign spokesman Chase Winder claimed in his posting.

"...Hurt admitted that the hardest decision he faced was running for Congress, and that he doesn't know about his oath to a pledge for more deficit-funded tax subsidies for corporate outsourcers...."

From our perspective, both gentlemen have taken a little liberty with what actually transpired.

Douglas did distance himself from the Obama White House, for instance, by calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and noted in response to a question about his ability and willingness to reach across the aisle that he would be more forceful than many in his party on border security.

Hurt readily acknowledged that he has signed Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge, and while he said that he didn't know how Norquist "thinks," the pledge does allow for closing tax loopholes -- now an important part of the Republican plan -- as long as there is a dollar for dollar drop in spending, he said.
"I will tell you this," he said. "The people that I represent appreciate [the pledge]."

Douglass has lived near Hume for 20 years, and is therefore the local candidate in a Warrenton debate, and that support showed.

Hurt's family, friends and campaign staff occupied the first few rows of seats, and were occasionally enthusiastic in their response to his comments. And this being reliably-red Fauquier, there were numerous Republican-leaning voters in the audience.

But Douglass had the crowd.

Hurt was reprimanded from the audience for not answering one question, was booed for another answer and observation, and was chided by yet another attendee for his continued insistence that 40 cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed.

Douglas had the crowd. Whether that means anything remains to be seen; Hurt leads in the polls, comfortably in some of them.

But by his own admission, he is part of a Congress that has an approval rating that is approaching non-existence. "Congress has got the reputation it deserves, there's no doubt about it," Hurt said.

Given redistricting, one of these gentlemen will represent most of Fauquier after the Nov. 6 election, replacing Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th). Catlett, Lois, Morrisville and Bealeton precincts will continue to be represented by Rep. Rob Wittman.

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