MCLEAN, Virginia — U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie sparred Tuesday over economic policies and who would be the more independent voice in the U.S. Senate.
Each claimed he would be the bigger advocate for working Virginians, and they accused each other of being in lock-step with their political parties. The debate in Northern Virginia was televised throughout the state.
"Everything in my career has been about creating jobs," Warner said, adding that Gillespie, a former lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee, has spent his entire career as a "partisan political operative."
Gillespie countered that Warner's voting record doesn't match his bipartisan rhetoric.
"He says one thing and then votes another way," Gillespie said. "I don't care what any Senate leader says of either party; if it doesn't ease the squeeze on hardworking Virginians, I will fight against it."
Gillespie and Warner made their cases before Northern Virginia business leaders at the Capitol One headquarters. The second of three planned debates was hosted by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Chuck Todd, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press."
With election day less than a month away, both candidates have sharpened their attacks on each other in recent weeks through negative television ads. They took hard swipes at each other Tuesday.
Gillespie criticized Warner's support for President Barack Obama's policies, especially the Affordable Care Act and the president's proposed restrictions on coal. Gillespie said the president's health care law is hurting Virginia's economy, and Obama's coal policies are hurting southwest Virginia's coal country.
Warner tried to distance himself from Obama throughout much of the debate. He cited several areas in which he disagrees with the president, including energy issues and foreign policy.
The former Virginia governor said the U.S. needs "a more forceful response" to threats in Syria and Iraq, and said he supports offshore oil drilling, the Keystone Pipeline and coal.
Warner attacked Gillespie on social issues, saying Gillespie's socially conservative views put him out of touch with mainstream Virginians.
Gillespie is a Catholic who does not support same-sex marriage, which became legal in Virginia on Monday. Gillespie said he thinks the issue should be decided at a state level.
Republicans are hoping Obama's sagging popularity will help them gain control of the Senate. Several Democratic incumbents face stiff challenges for re-election. Warner, a popular former governor, has been viewed as relatively safe in his bid for a second term. Recent public polls have shown him comfortably ahead, to varying degrees.
Gillespie told reporters after the debate that he thinks momentum is on his side and Warner's lead is shrinking.