Congressional candidate differences lie in priorities, if not policy

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

While the crowded field of Democrats in the left-leaning 8th Congressional District agree on most issues, examining each candidate’s top priority exposes distinctions between the seven remaining hopefuls.

Tuesday’s Democratic primary, which will determine who will face off against Republican Micah Edmond in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D), is fast approaching.

Several candidates list combating climate change as a priority if elected, but only former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer calls it his top project. Beyer said he supports a tax on carbon emitters.

“The No. 1 reason I’m running is climate change,” he said. “A national, progressive carbon tax would drive … better decision making. We would drive different cars, live in different places and take fewer discretionary trips. And it would encourage the development of solar and wind and other renewable fuels.”

Two candidates — Alexandria state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47) — said strengthening the Affordable Care Act is their main goal. While Ebbin supports pushing toward universal care by providing Medicare access to all Americans, Hope proposes providing the low-income uninsured with free preventative care, free medical home care for chronic ailments and access to catastrophic insurance to cover tragedies like heart attacks or cancer diagnoses.

“In addition to beating back any additional efforts to repeal [the ACA], we need to move it forward to universal care by providing Medicare for all,” Ebbin said. “It would just be easier for everyone if we had Medicare for all, so people could all buy into it.”

“Even if Medicaid is expanded in all states [as part of the ACA], we will still have around 20 million uninsured and my highest priority from day one will be to bring them into the health care system,” Hope said. “[You] know the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? High quality preventive care actually saves money and I’m confident the [Congressional Budget Office] will score my proposal as a savings.”

Bolstering the economy also is a big talking point. Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille supports passing a federal transportation bill that has languished in Congress, which he said will produce jobs both inside and outside of the construction industry.

“The funding of that program alone will generate 750,000 new jobs and enable folks to be engaged in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, from 63,000 bridges at risk of collapsing and safety hazards across the country to our sewer system and roads in need of repair,” Euille said. “Putting those people back to work not only creates jobs but also helps the economy to grow and expand. People who are now gainfully employed with a disposable income will start buying houses, paying for college and buying cars and appliances and everything else.”

City planning commissioner Derek Hyra argued that the root of the nation’s economic instability is in the still-struggling housing market.

“The housing market is 20 percent of our nation’s economy, so if we can stabilize that we can stabilize the broader economy,” he said. “We just saw a [1 percent] dip in [gross domestic product] and some economists say that’s because there has been no decision on [mortgage giants] Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. They either need to return to being wholly private or become completely public like the Federal Housing Administration.”

Former Northern Virginia Urban League President Lavern Chatman said one of her top priorities would be to close the wage gap between men and women.

“I think it’s common sense, it’s something that affects men and entire families,” she said. “Everybody talks about the statistic that a woman gets paid 77 cents to a man’s dollar, but for minority women it’s even less than that — an African-American woman gets paid 59 cents and a Latino woman 56 cents. And men should be concerned, because if you’re a two-breadwinner family, that’s food off your table.”
Former Congressional staffer and liberal radio host Mark Levine said tightening campaign donation regulations tops his list agenda. Levine’s campaign is largely self-funded.

“Now that the Koch brothers have been more or less discovered, there are more and more people putting anonymous money into politics, and that’s extremely dangerous,” he said. “The best way to fight the Citizens United [Supreme Court decision] is to at least make people disclose where the money is coming from.”

Most veteran political observers see the winner of the primary going on to succeed Moran in the heavily Democratic district, which likely will translate into a small percentage of registered voters deciding who will be the newest congressman from Northern Virginia. Geoff Skelley, a highly-respected analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that while turnout is always higher in an election when the incumbent is stepping aside, don’t expect an earth-shattering number of ballots cast on Tuesday.

“I’d tend to think that turnout will be slightly up, but generally speaking it still won’t be very high — it’s a primary during a midterm year,” Skelley said. “The last time Moran was really put up against it was in 2004, when he faced off against Andrew Rosenberg, who got 41 percent of the vote, and there were 41,000 votes cast that year. So I’d say somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 votes might be a reasonable bet.”

Skelley said that when you have a crowded field of similar candidates, undecided voters either will vote for the candidate they know best, or judge the hopefuls on a specific issue important to them.

“That’s really the trouble any time you have a very safe seat on either side of the aisle; it actually makes it more difficult for voters,” he said. “They really have to latch onto small things, because on the larger issues the candidates are roughly in agreement.”

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