Thursday, August 12, 2010

Report from the Virginia 5th District Congressional Debate

Yesterday the Senior Statesmen of Virginia sponsored a candidates' forum for those seeking to represent Virginia's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

All three candidates who qualified for the ballot were invited to participate, but only incumbent Democrat Tom Perriello and independent challenger Jeffrey Clark chose to attend.  Republican nominee Robert Hurt decided to sit this one out, missing the opportunity to appear on C-SPAN, NPR, several local radio and TV stations, and in newspaper and blog reports about the debate.

I have written three articles on based on interviews conducted before and after the debate.

Before the event began, I chatted briefly with Jeff Clark, a Danville Tea Party activist who is running without party affiliation, a conscious decision on his part.  Even though we only spoke for a few minutes, he gave me enough material for at least three articles -- though so far I have only written one of them.

The interview with Clark can be found under the headline "Independent congressional candidate Jeffrey Clark says ‘the power lies with us’".

After the debate ended, I had an even briefer time to speak with Congressman Perriello, who was not, as I had expected, besieged by reporters from other media outlets.  He answered three questions from me, including one that is starting to get attention outside the Fifth District:  How does he plan to earn the votes of self-identified libertarian voters in this election?

In his response, Perriello suggested that his vote on the comprehensive health care bill was motivated by libertarian concerns, although his explanation was thin, to say the least. 

My interview with Perriello, titled "Congressman Tom Perriello explains his appeal to libertarian voters in Virginia’s 5th District," was also discussed earlier today on The Schilling Show on WINA-AM.

Finally, I caught the moderator of the debate, the Sorensen Institute's Coy Barefoot, and asked him for his impressions of the event. He thought the discussion was substantive and "covered a lot of ground."

As an aside, I also recorded nearly the entire debate on video. Unfortunately, the battery on my camera expired just before Jeff Clark's closing remarks. I have posted one short excerpt on YouTube, in which the two candidates answer a question I posed (in writing via the moderator) about same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). To my surprise, Clark gives the very libertarian answer that the best solution may be to get government out of the marriage business altogether. Perriello dodges the question about DOMA, both in the forum and when I asked him again later.

Here's the clip:
I did not, by the way, ask the question, "Do you believe that Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness includes gay marriage?" I wish I had. (Mine was the wonkier question recited by Coy Barefoot.)

Update:  Local Libertarian activists react to my interview with Congressman Perriello -- expressing skepticism about his claims to libertarian tendencies -- in this article: "LPVA leaders react to Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello’s claim of a ‘libertarian undercurrent’."

Update 2:  The New York Times Caucus Blog picked up this post and linked to it and the accompanying video on YouTube.

Update 3:  A second article based on my interview with Jeffrey Clark is now live on  In it, he discusses his support for Governor Bob McDonnell's proposals to privatize Virginia's liquor monopoly.
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