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Four GOP contenders varied little on policy in debate
Republican GOP candidates (from left) former Sen. George Allen listens as E.W. Jackson, a minister from Chesapeake, talks during their debate Saturday in Roanoke. Also taking part in the debate were Del. Bob Marshall, second from right, and co-tea party leader for Virginia Jamie Radtke. (AP)
Sunday, April 29, 2012
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS -
ROANOKE — No matter which Virginia Republican appears on this fall’s U.S. Senate ballot, the nominee is likely to support higher retirement ages for some people to obtain social security benefits and be suspicious of the Department of Homeland Security.
In Saturday’s debate, all four candidates pledged support for the 1996 federal law giving states the right not to recognize same-sex marriages.
And none was ready to endorse the apparent Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
In the first of three debates, front-runner George Allen emerged unscathed after taking jabs from rivals Jamie Radtke, a Virginia tea party leader, and Del. Bob Marshall. Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson, drawing on his pulpit experience, turned his answers into a one-man conservative camp meeting.
The winner of the primary will face former Gov. Tim Kaine in November.
There were none of the gaffes that toppled Allen six years ago when he lost by slightly more than 9,000 votes statewide to Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who is not seeking re-election.
The Republicans expressed grudging support for Social Security, calling it a commitment promised to the nation’s senior retirees that must be kept, even if it means increasing the retirement age for people born in the 1960s and beyond. Each, however, voiced some level of support for a non-governmental alternative.
“I would look at slowly raising the age of retirees over time,” Marshall said. “The compact between generations has got to be kept.”
Besides private investment accounts as an alternative to a government-run Social Security system, Radtke proposed allowing people not to pay payroll taxes if they work beyond their retirement age.
Jackson, recalling his father’s need for Social Security after 33 years of work, called it “a covenant that must be honored,” but one that had to be re-imagined.
“I would never want to destroy Social Security, but if Chile can come up with a system of allowing people to invest their own money and build wealth over the course of their lives ... I think the United States of America can handle it, too,” Jackson said.
Allen said remedies he would propose for an underfunded Social Security trust fund include raising the retirement age for younger people and income adjustment.
He said he would not support increases in taxes for the fund.
On the federal Homeland Security bureaucracy, created in the days after Sept. 11 by Republican President George W. Bush and a GOP-majority Congress, Radtke, Marshall and Jackson all found things not to like.
Jackson and Marshall both piled on Transportation Security Administration, noting stories of excesses imposed on air travelers during security screenings.
“I do have a problem with TSA and the groping that goes on in these airports on children and on women and on people like me because I had something on my hand that was supposed to be explosives,” Jackson said.
He, Radtke and Marshall also said they had problems with infringements on personal freedoms in the Patriot Act.
“We have the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Defense. The solution in Washington was: let’s create another department,” Radtke said. “The answer was always a larger bureaucracy rather than fixing the problem where it is.”
Her prescription was an armed populace. “The best defense for Americans is the Second Amendment,” she said.
Allen, who was in the Senate during the attacks, was more charitable.
“The Department of Homeland Security was necessary in that, in the briefings I heard just days after 9/11, they had all the information on all 19 hijackers, and I thought, ‘Why in the heck are these people allowed in our country?”’ Allen said.
The fault, he said, lay in the inability or unwillingness of federal intelligence agencies to share and effectively analyze information on threats, something the new department promised.
Radtke was sharpest in her attacks on Allen. She accused him of voting for thousands of earmarks tucked into federal budget bills that directed specific spending projects. On the question of support for keeping federally backed student loan rates from increasing, Radtke said Allen had gone along with expansions of government numerous times. She said Allen was part of a GOP-dominated Senate that failed to hold federally-backed home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac accountable before a meltdown in the home mortgage and real estate industries helped plunge the nation into a deep recession four years ago.
“You have candidates, you have politicians — including Republicans, including George Allen — who did not support reforms for Fannie and Freddie,” she said.
Yet it produced no game-changing moment, and Allen did not respond in kind, focusing his fire on Kaine, President Barack Obama and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate.
Kaine, hoping to counter the attention paid the Republicans, campaigned Saturday in Roanoke.