Mark R. Warner is by no means new to campaigning, but the incumbent U.S. senator said this election has been an adjustment.
The Democrat is seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate but, like every candidate running for office, he has been forced to take a step back from typical door-to-door campaigning in a bid to reduce human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In a typical election, a volunteer would be able to say, ‘well, we knocked on x number of doors today’ and use that as a metric to measure but, obviously, we’ve been unable to do that this year,” Warner said. “It’s certainly been an adjustment but it probably benefits the incumbent more than challengers because we’re still able to hold events in our official capacity.”
Warner said his campaign is “sort-of making it up as we go,” holding slimmed-down and virtual events while he also works to pass more pandemic relief legislation.
Among the bills Warner has helped to pass was the CARES Act, a response to the pandemic that, up until recently, assisted out-of-work Americans and business owners struggling to remain afloat.
As further pandemic relief legislation continues to stall, Warner said he is working on a bill that aims to help low-income communities and communities of color. He said he sees the legislation as an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program portion of the CARES Act, which he said were well-intentioned but amplified racial inequalities that already existed in financial systems.
“There was close to $500 billion put aside to help finance certain Federal Reserve programs, and not all of that has been used; taking the remaining approximate $18 billion and using this as an investment in Community Development Financial Institutions seems like a good idea,” he said. “Even my Republican colleagues have recognized that this virus has hit Black and brown communities much harder.”
Another piece of legislation Warner assisted in passing is the Great American Outdoors Act, which included his Restore Our Parks Act. He said the Restore Act will help tackle $1.1 billion in needed maintenance in Virginia’s national parks and create as many as 10,000 jobs. The bill crossed over to the House of Representatives in June.
The legislation was a piece of bipartisan work, Warner said, something which is less common than when he began his term. Republicans are less likely to reach across the aisle, he said, and those who do can open themselves up to criticism from their party colleagues or President Donald Trump.
“The Republican Party has become so much a party of Trump that the traditional Republican values — like fiscal discipline, pro-business tendencies — have been thrown out the window,” Warner said. “He’s never seen a bit of debt that he doesn’t love.”
Nevertheless, Warner said he believes bipartisanship is key to passing effective legislation because if senators from both parties are involved, issues plaguing the legislation are more likely to get ironed out.
For example, Warner said many of his Republican colleagues have declined to attempt to fix the Affordable Care Act, citing the desire to have the legislation outright repealed instead.
“If you can make something bipartisan, it doesn’t make it a better bill, per se, but 99% of the legislation that passes contains something that needs to be fixed, and if you have bipartisanship, when you find the problem, then both sides are invested in fixing it,” he said.
Warner, who is facing Republican Daniel Gade, an American University professor and disability and veteran rights activist, has come under scrutiny by his opponent for being a career politician. Warner served as Virginia’s governor from 2002-2006 before first winning the Senate seat in 2008.
Though he has been a politician the better part of the last two decades, Warner said he spent the first half of his adult life as a businessman. He said he has sought to bring that experience to the Senate table and offer legislation that addresses financial issues.
However, Warner said he does recognize he has spent much of his life as a public servant, something he does not view as a bad thing.
“As someone who has spent longer in business than I have in politics, I’m proud of my business record and I’m proud of my work in the Senate,” he said. “And, most importantly, I believe I’m a much more effective senator than I was 10 years ago.”
Warner has accepted three debate invitations, the first of which will be hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and NBC4 Washington and is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. It will be the first time the candidates have debated each other.
The election is Nov. 3.