Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GOP hopefuls debate for top prosecutor job

The three men seeking the party nomination answered questions at a Roanoke high school.

The three men vying for the Republican nomination for Virginia attorney general participated in a debate Tuesday evening at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke.

Former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee, state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli of Fairfax County and David Foster of Arlington, a partner at a Washington law firm, answered direct and general questions for more than an hour in the school's auditorium, which was about three-quarters full.

"No matter who ends up winning, I believe we'll have the best candidate in November," said Adam Boitnott, chairman of the Roanoke City Republican Committee, which hosted the event along with the Salem Republican Committee.

Although many issues were discussed during the exchanges, the spine of the debate seemed to be which hopeful was the most conservative.

"I've got some good news and some very good news," Brownlee said in his opening statement. "Regardless of who you nominate, you are going to get a conservative."

All three candidates, he declared, "are good, solid conservatives you can trust," but went on to insist that the best nominee for attorney general would be someone with his career background.

"You've got to nominate a prosecutor," he said, adding, "The job is the state's top prosecutor.

"I come to this from the courtroom. I've been out there fighting against drug dealers and violent criminals.

"I'm the only candidate that's actually done the job," Brownlee asserted.

Foster cited his own background and compared the position he sought to running a large law firm, also making reference to the commonwealth's current financial woes.

"I've had to match revenues with expenditures," he said.

"I can do the most to help elect Bob McDonnell governor and Bill Bolling lieutenant governor," Foster added. "I can help pull this entire ticket across the victory line."

Cuccinelli pointed to his legislative and corporate counsel experience and his support for conservative issues, including his campaigning for the marriage amendment in 2006.

"You can look at my votes and tell what I believe," he said. "I've been running and winning without sacrificing my principals."

During a question about the circumstances under which abortion should be legal, Cuccinelli and Brownlee both said they would support it only in cases where the mother's life was threatened.

Foster was less emphatic in his response and debate moderator Jay Warren repeatedly pressed him for a direct answer.

"Personally, I oppose abortion," Foster finally offered. "Legally, I have not drawn that line in the sand," and cited pregnancies involving rape and incest.

Other topics discussed included the role of the attorney general, security issues in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings and support for incumbent Lt. Gov. Bolling's expected run for governor in 2013.

All three hopefuls at one point or another stated the need for cooperation and electability among Republicans.

"This is a party that has its back up against the wall," Brownlee stated. "We've got to win these races now."

"We need to build as a party," Cuccinelli said. "What are we going to build on? Core principals.

"I can bring tens of thousands of votes," he continued. "It doesn't do any good to elect anybody if they're not going to follow core principals."

Garrett Thompson of Salem attended the debate and said although he was partial to Brownlee, he felt "it was pretty close to a three-way tie."

The Republican nominee will be selected at a state party convention in May in Richmond.

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