Virginia lawyer and retired Army Col. Wayne Powell was on a mission in Monday night’s debate — to fire as many rhetorical shots at Eric Cantor in his longshot bid to unseat the House majority leader.
Cantor was defending his seat in a debate for just the second time since being elected to Congress in 2000. The Democratic nominee is running his first political campaign, hoping to represent a heavily Republican district, against the House’s No. 2 lawmaker.
Speaking loudly and gesticulating heavily, at times as though he was rallying a crowd, Powell cast himself as a pragmatic problem-solver aiming to unseat an ideologue who has been bought by wealthy special interests.
“It is almost obscene, the millions of dollars you have earned [from big corporations],” Powell said, raising his voice. “You’ve got a person who supports the very barbarians, the very parasites who caused the meltdown in this country in 2008.”
Powell twice accused Cantor of embracing “pixie dust politics” and mocked his small-government philosophy. “You don’t like government,” he said. “You should just resign and then I’ll take over.”
“You’re so far removed for 12 years … from reality that I don’t think you know what a small business is — unless it’s a hedge fund,” he said.
Cantor retained his composure through the debate, talking up his small business bona fides and characterizing Powell as a tax-and-spend liberal whose platform relies on the levers of government to solve the nation’s problems. He also accused Powell of ad hominem attacks.
“We have got to make sure we are with the facts here, okay?” Cantor said, smiling. “And you can go on your personal attacks all you want but it’s not doing anything to create jobs, it’s not doing anything to bring down the deficit.”
In his closing statement, the GOP leader accused Powell of waging a “negative campaign” — and lobbing “a rash of personal attacks” with “repetitive disregard for honesty and truth.”
He characterized the race as a choice between “two very different visions” that “take us to very, very different futures in America.” He talked up his record of passing tax cuts and rolling back government regulations.
When Powell attacked Cantor for originally voting for the defense sequester — a big issue in military-heavy Virginia — and accused him of not helping veterans, the Republican leader didn’t take the bait: he began by repeatedly thanking and praising his rival for his military service.
Powell several times acknowledged his intensity, describing it as “righteous indignation.”
“The reason I seem passionate is that I am,” he said.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.