Senate candidates participate in forum at Virginia Tech

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Senate candidates participate in forum at Virginia Tech

Corey Stewart speaks with two females after the forum. Photo by Guthrie Martin

Corey Stewart speaks with two females after the forum. Photo by Guthrie Martin

Corey Stewart speaks with two females after the forum. Photo by Guthrie Martin

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On Friday, August 24, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) attended a forum with Corey Stewart, his opponent in the upcoming 2018 Senate election. The forum presented an opportunity for voters to pose questions to the two candidates in an informal environment.

The event was sponsored by the Young Democrats and College Republicans at Virginia Tech. The Collegiate Times, the university’s student-run newspaper, selected questions submitted by the audience to ask the candidates. Almost every seat in the Commonwealth Ballroom, the site of the forum, was filled, and many attendees wore stickers or carried signs supporting their candidate.

Stewart took the stage first to a mix of applause and boos from the crowd. An international trade attorney who is currently serving his fourth term on the Board of Supervisors in Prince William County, Stewart is the self-styled dark horse in the race. His  campaign is built around the idea that Virginia voters want an “aggressive populist candidate.” He has been the subject of controversy in the past for his hardline stance on illegal immigration and his support of Confederate monuments in public places.

Throughout the forum, Stewart repeatedly pivoted away from questions asked by the moderators.  He chose instead to lay out policy proposals that he would support if he were elected, such as ending access to late-term abortions and requiring that immigration status checks be conducted at all traffic stops. Later on, he blamed the death of Molly Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who was killed by an illegal immigrant in July, on lax immigration laws in the country, drawing loud boos from the audience.

At another point, he denounced the “cult of political correctness” that is allegedly present on college campuses, comparing ideological bias among university faculty to religious belief, which caused the crowd to boo him again.

“It’s like he’s [Stewart] just looking for a fight here . . . maybe if he wasn’t so aggressive people wouldn’t be so hostile,” said a chemical engineering major named Carly who said she would be voting for Kaine in November.

After Stewart finished answering questions, Kaine was welcomed to the stage with loud applause while several Stewart supporters left the ballroom in protest. Kaine, who has served as both the Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Virginia, as well as the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, is seeking a second term after narrowly winning the 2012 Senate election. This year, however, the gap between the two candidates is much wider. A poll conducted by Roanoke College in mid-August found that Kaine has a 17 percent lead over Stewart, and he has consistently maintained a strong lead over Stewart in the polls for months.

Like Stewart, Kaine strayed away from most of the questions and used the forum as an opportunity to present his policy ideas. He professed his support for abortion rights, the Paris climate change agreement, and “common sense” gun control policy, reaffirming many of the Democratic Party’s standard beliefs. When asked about what should be done about the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Kaine said that the approval process for natural gas pipelines by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) needed to be improved, but he did not elaborate on how this should be done.

Before leaving the stage, Kaine made a call for civility among voters and bipartisanship among politicians, and he encouraged younger voters to make their voices heard in the upcoming election.

“In Virginia, most races are close . . . your votes make a difference. And so, young voters, when you turn out in significant numbers, or anybody, when you turn out in significant numbers, you can claim the election. You’ll be the decision maker. You’ll be the difference maker.”

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), speaks with Thomas Kniatt, President of the Virginia Tech College Republicans, after the forum. Photo by Guthrie Martin

Some of the audience members were still uncertain about who they were going to vote for.

Nick, a freshman at Virginia Tech who plans to major in computer science, expressed reservations about both candidates.

“I’m kind of undecided, because I can’t vote for him [Stewart] in good conscience, and I disagree with the Senator on a lot of stuff,” he said.

Another student, Paul, had more important things in mind. “I’m disappointed,” he said, gesturing towards the free food provided after the event. “I thought there would be something better than this.” When asked about who he planned to vote for, he shrugged. “I don’t know, man. I came for the food. But it’ll work itself out eventually.”


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