In a ballroom of the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, nearly 200 people lined the walls and packed the tables for the first public debate between the 2018 candidates for the U.S. 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Scott Taylor and his Democratic challenger, Elaine Luria.
Leaders of local business and government salted their food and peppered the room, including Gold Key CEO Bruce Thompson, Norfolk City Councilwoman Andrea McClellan, and Del. Kelly Fowler of Virginia Beach.
Moderated by Bob Holsworth, managing partner of DecideSmart and founding director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University, the debate lasted an hour and discussed a wide array of topics.
The questions covered the full continuum of domestic issues; Social Security, the national debt, immigration, taxes, and health care.
The foreign policy questions were more topical, such as questions about the diplomatic crisis over Saudi Arabia’s alleged murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and President Donald Trump’s so-called trade war with China.
The highly structured debate — candidates were provided questions prior to the event and, under threat of expulsion, media outlets were prohibited from questioning the candidates prior — produced highly scripted answers from Taylor and Luria, as each repeated well-rehearsed talking points throughout the event.
Here are some of Tuesday’s most poignant exchanges:
- Luria said she was “not accepting any corporate PAC money” during her campaign. Taylor pointed out that someone else — U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — had recently spent PAC money in Hampton Roads to fund negative television ads against Taylor.
- Taylor highlighted his military service throughout the debate, to which Luria appeared reactionary; she went out of her way to “remind” Taylor — and presumably, the audience — of her military service three separate times during the debate. This prompted Taylor at one point to say “you really don’t have to remind me, Elaine.”
- Taylor used the first 30 seconds of half his questions to rehash answers to the previous question, drawing moans from the crowd; this left him with less time to answer each question, but allowed him to essentially “get the last word” on most of the topics.
- In reference to Trump’s escalating trade wars, Taylor tacitly supported the president’s approach and said he’d rather “take care of China economically than militarily.”
- Taylor said the U.S. should be “careful and cautious” with how they handle Saudi Arabia because our partnership with the Kingdom is “very important.” Luria retorted, saying that “nothing about our current ‘foreign policy via tweets’ is careful or cautious.”
- Luria was most confident when hammering Taylor over his staff’s handling of petitions for Shaun Brown, which contained fraudulent signatures.
- Although there were mentions of presidential “tweets,” “the administration,” and “the president,” Taylor did not mention Trump by name.