NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – With the candidates and voters poised for the first presidential debate tonight, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump in Virginia, according to a new survey of likely voters by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. But Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson is winning support, especially among Millennial voters.
In a head-to-head contest, voters prefer Clinton, 48-38 percent. But among all five candidates who will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, the tally is Clinton 39, Trump 33 and Johnson 15. Green Party nominee Jill Stein and independent Evan McMullin each take 3 percent. The margin of error is +
Attorneys Melvin Williams, Josh Johnson, and Bill Cleaveland along with business man Chris Head and former Roanoke Board of Supervisor Mike Wray took turns answering questions from moderator, Kathy Terry. Terry is a member of the Republican National Committee. They all want retiring Delegate Fralin’s seat. They are all in accord on wanting to keep the predominantly Republican 17th District under Republican control. The winner of the June 9 primary will face unopposed Democratic nominee Gwen Mason in November.
There were over 100 in attendance at Patrick Henry High School Auditorium Tuesday evening. The only contention was a 4-page handout that attacked Mike Wray that diminished the spirit and rules of the forum. It read “Paid for and authorized by David Nixon and not by any candidate.” Nixon works for Melvin Williams. Wray took it in stride. (Atleast it didn’t read “Joe Smith” – now that brings back memories.)
Williams took the opportunity to voice his disapproval of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, judge Sonia Sotomayor. Johnson introduced himself as “the new generation of Republican leadership.” Johnson said he would focus on the economy and jobs. Head said he is “substantively different” from the rest of the candidates because “I am [the only] business owner.” Cleaveland made a “taxpayer protection pledge” and will vote against any efforts to raise taxes. Wray said he was the only candidate who has been an elected official serving as a Board of Supervisor member for Roanoke County.
The first question was do you support “voter registration by party?” Both Cleaveland and Johnson were against it. Their reasoning primarily ws to allow citizens who might be discontented with their party of registration to then have an opportunity to vote in another party’s primary.
Wray, Williams, and Head said “yes” to party registration to discourage the crossover vote by Democrats attempting to skew primary results. Williams said, “it’s not fair … the GOP has been beaten only because we have abandoned our core principles.” Head gave the example that there were many Republicans that were “so anti-Hillary that instead of voting in the Republican primary they were voting in the Democratic primary for Barack Obama.” Head said, ” that Republicans helped to elect Barack Obama.”
Applause at conclusion of forum
All candidates were firmly against raising taxes with Head saying; “no absolutely not … cut waste” but added a caveat if there was some “horrible natural disaster” that needed short-term funds. Johnson advocated for the flat or fair tax and for offshore drilling to bring in additional revenue. The solution to the current economic conditions is to “lower taxes for small businesses,” said Johnson. Wray agreed to not increase taxes saying when presented with a mandate to cut the budget, “you do things in a more efficient and leaner manor.”
When asked is there anyplace you would spend more money all mentioned transportation. Head said he was concerned about Medicaid Waiver Programs for senior adults. Head runs a private senior homecare business and does not participate in the program. Head advocated for home care saying that Institutionalized care is more expensive.
Johnson advocated for a Transportation Trust Fund. Wray also wanted to shift funds to transportation without raising taxes. Cleaveland said more money needs to be spent on education. He advocated for partnering with small businesses with local education institutions like Virginia Western Community College. He believes this will produce graduates that businesses in the area need.
The subject of highway tolls to increase transportation funding evoked a response from Head that though he did not like tolls they could be structured to guide the flow of traffic. Passengers would pay a minimal toll while trucks would pay more. Wray opined the waste of spending $6 million dollars on redoing rest stops only to close many of them. Williams had the shortest answer of all “no tolls – stop diverting money.”
On an increase in the gas tax to pay for transportation Johnson supported Republican candidate for Governor Bob McDonnell’s proposal for offshore drilling. No candidate advocated for an increase in the gas tax. Head lamented that VDOT had more employees now then they did prior to outsourcing. His experience with VDOT was a cost of $39,000 to move a guardrail a few feet.
On funding museums, the arts, and other non-state agencies with taxpayer dollars Wray said to look for funding locally including funding from “businesses that take an interest in the community – they give back to the community.” Cleaveland said it was not an easy answer but it would require a “cost benefit analysis … we’d look at it very closely.” Williams said “it was not an essential government function” but if there was leftover money it could be spread around. Head gave an example of individuals receiving a tax credit for individuals who give to agencies like the Rescue Mission in lieu of state funding. Johnson said the Roanoke Regional Partnership serves a vital roll in this area.
In closing remarks Cleaveland exclaimed that citizens would get “straight talk” from him. Wray pointed to his economic accomplishments saying that during his tenure as a member of the Board of Supervisors 12 new businesses came to the County adding 600 jobs.
Head boldly asked if citizens wanted attorneys, an accountant and former Board of Supervisor member, or if they wanted a small business owner saying, “we need business-minded representation in Richmond.”
The forum ended and not hearing 2 questions I expected I caught up with each candidate to ask if they supported the Republican candidate for Governor, Bob McDonnell’s call for a bipartisan redistricting plan and two-terms for Governor.
Surprisingly none of the candidates realized that McDonnell held a press conference advocating for both – CLICK HERE FOR THAT. But caught off guard all but Cleaveland agreed on a two-term governor. Cleaveland had to give it more thought. All but Wray were unsure on bipartisan redistricting and would have to look into it further. Wray was the only candidate who agreed with McDonnell’s proposed redistricting effort. William’s said emphatically that “whoever comes out of the primary can beat Democrat Gwen Mason.”