In a wide-ranging debate, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican senate candidate John Raese sparred over the best path to prosperity for West Virginians, with Manchin arguing for occasional government intervention and a safety net and Raese pushing capitalism and free enterprise.
It was a general election debate that sometimes sounded more like a GOP primary debate, such as when Manchin bragged about how the libertarian Cato Institute and the Wall Street Journal had lauded West Virginia’s progress during his time as governor. Both candidates spoke out against cap-and-trade, with Manchin saying that President Obama “is dead wrong on cap-and-trade.” Manchin also expressed his support for extending all the Bush tax cuts, including for those who make over $250,000 a year. “I don’t think during a time of recession you mess with any of the taxes,” he said.
But it was also a chance for the candidates to show their differences on issues ranging from earmarks to the health-care bill.
“We need to bring this country together,” said Manchin, responding to a question about the negativity in politics. He argued that too many Washington politicians put their party first, special interests second, and the good of the country third.
“I don’t know how we couldn’t be negative in this country right now,” said Raese, adding that unemployment levels were almost at “catastrophic proportions.” Mentioning President Obama’s health-care plan, TARP, and the stimulus, Raese said, “These are programs we need to change in this country.”
The two also differed on earmarks. Arguing that earmarks help create “career politicians,” Raese acknowledged that the late Sen. Robert Byrd had brought a significant amount of federal dollars to the state. “Is that the best answer for the problems of West Virginia?” asked Raese, bringing up the often-used fish example: give a man a fish, and he’s fed for a day, but teach him how to fish, and he’s fed for life.
But Manchin argued that in areas with sparser populations, a market would not always occur, and touted the benefit of partnerships between the government and the private sector. “So you have to look at basically what are the returns on the money invested. And it has to be transparent,” he said about government-funded projects.
When it came to President Obama’s health-care plan, the candidates had starkly different positions. “I’d like to repeal every part of it because it is pure, unadulterated socialism,” said Raese, calling it the worst bill ever passed by the House and the Senate. “From here on out … you’re going to have a patient/bureaucrat relationship,” he argued.
“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill,” said Manchin, adding that Congress has “never passed a piece of perfect legislation.” He talked about the need for people with pre-existing conditions to have access to health care, and argued that working people were most vulnerable, when it came to losing health insurance, because there were specific programs targeted at the elderly, the low-income, and children, but none for those “getting up every day and going to work.”
Asked what why he was a Democrat, Manchin talked about his opposition to privatizing Social Security and his support of the minimum wage. He also said that “basically every time this country got into trouble,” the Democratic party helped people in need. Raese stood firm on his belief that the minimum wage should be abolished, arguing that it contributed to unemployment and that the government shouldn’t set price controls.
Manchin also argued that he would not be a “rubber stamp” for President Obama: “I hate to inform my opponent, but Mr. Obama’s name will not be on the ballot,” he said, later adding that “when you see what’s happening in this country, I’m as mad as you are.” But Raese reiterated that Manchin and Obama were closely aligned on crucial issues, including the stimulus and a carbon tax.
Both Raese and Manchin made emotional appeals in their final statements. “We have a country right now that I think is going in the wrong direction,” said Raese, arguing a return to free enterprise and capitalism would be a return to “the spirit and freedom of America.”
“I want to see the United States rise again,” he said.
“I want to go there [Washington] to take the common-sense approach we brought to West Virginia,” said Manchin.
“I will be independent. I’ve always been independent,” Manchin argued, adding that “I believe in you, and I’m asking you to believe in me.”
Also present were Mountain party candidate Jesse Johnson and Conservative party candidate Jeff Becker. In the most recent Rasmussen poll, two percent of voters supported someone other than Manchin or Raese. It doesn’t seem likely that this debate will increase that number: Johnson talked about U.S. wars being “all pursuit of empire” and said Obama’s health-care bill was “capitalism on steroids,” while Becker brought up 9/11 conspiracy theories.