CHARLOTTESVILLE — At a debate Saturday, candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District race addressed their own perceived shortcomings and agreed to run fair races.
Organized by Indivisible Charlottesville and held at Buford Middle School in Charlottesville, the four remaining candidates — Leslie Cockburn, Ben Cullop, R.D. Huffstetler and Andrew Sneathern — answered questions about where they stood on hot-button issues and how they planned to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Garrett. Laurence Gaughan recently dropped out of the race.
Though billed as a debate, the event functioned more like a moderated forum, with the candidates rarely debating each other’s stances directly or disagreeing significantly.
Of the major topics discussed, the only issue that noticeably split the candidates was their views on affordable health care.
All four are in favor of some form of universal health care, though they differed on what form of it they supported. Cockburn and Sneathern supported S 1804, Medicare for All, which was proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Cullop and Huffstetler supported S 1970, Medicare X, proposed by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Medicare for All and Medicare X differ in their methods, with the former being a single-payer system that does not use private insurance companies.
Cockburn said she favored Medicare for All because it would lower the financial overhead in the end.
“When people say ‘How are you going to pay for this?’ it’s important to know we’re already paying the cost,” she said. “It is vastly more expensive to pay for people having preventative care in the emergency room.”
Cullop said he preferred Medicare X because it still affords individuals a lot of choice in their healthcare provider.
“Americans value choice — just look at how many boxes of cereal you have in a grocery store. Healthcare is not perceived different by Americans,” he said. “I’m looking to give Americans more choice on this issue rather than less.”
Another topic the candidates disagreed on slightly was raising the minimum wage. All of the candidates favored raising the federal minimum, but not all were in favor of a nationwide $15 standard.
“There’s no question that a regional approach to minimum wage is the way to go,” Huffstetler said. “If you go to Southside [Virginia] and talk to business owners, they are going to have to lay off people [if $15 is the standard, because] the cost of living is just so much lower.”
Toward the end of the debate, candidates were asked to address perceived shortcomings that Garrett would likely bring up during the election cycle.
Since Huffstetler is new to the 5th District and wasn’t raised in Virginia, he was asked how he would address claims he does not know the area.
“When you’re a Marine, you go everywhere,” he said. “But when I wanted to raise a family, I wanted a place that has a low cost of living, pretty good weather and great college sports, so we chose here.”
Cullop was asked about his lack of political experience, which he countered with experience he has outside politics, namely in being an employer.
“I’ve created jobs here, I’ve invested in companies in the 5th District. And when Tom Garrett comes at me with his résumé, I’m going to say to him, ‘Tom what have you done?’ ” he said.
Cockburn was asked about her perceived liberal elitism and background as a journalist.
“I’m proud to have been a member of the Fourth Estate, because without a free press we don’t have democracy,” she said.
Sneathern, who out of the four has raised the least amount of money, was asked how he plans to compete with lesser funds. Because a convention was chosen over a primary, he said, his campaign needed less money. But he said it has a plan for the general election.
“It’s not based on simply raising money, it’s based on building relationships; it’s based on having people who are advocates for you in every single part of this district,” he said.
Candidates closed out the event by promising not to “act like Republicans” and attack and undercut each other as they barrel toward the end of the cycle.
The Democratic nominee will be selected May 5 in Farmville. Beforehand, individuals from localities within the district can advocate for their chosen candidate in caucuses. These caucuses will determine how many delegates a candidate gets heading into the convention.
Albemarle’s caucus is slated to take place at 6:30 p.m. April 16 in the forum at Monticello High School. Charlottesville’s caucus is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. April 21 at the gym in Burley Middle School.