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Gillespie and Northam face off in first public debate in Bath County

The two were divided on healthcare, the economy, and natural gas pipelines

BATH COUNTY, Va. – The candidates to be Virginia's next Governor met for their first debate Saturday at the Homestead Resort in Bath County.

Northam and Gillespie used the debate to cement their positions on several issues, including one that was a talker for Northam during the primaries: natural gas pipelines. Before Northam could even finish his opening statement, a protester interupted him, bringing natural gas pipelines to center stage. It's a project that neither candidate is willing to oppose.

"If the pipeline moves forward, it's going to be done with science, it's going to be done with transparency, it's going to be done responsibly," said Northam.

But Gillespie says, he not only supports pipelines, he'd like to see fracking in Virginia.

"I think fracking has demonstrated itself to be a positive impact on the economy, it's been safe, and it helps to provide a reliable source of affordable energy," said Gillespie.

The debate quickly revealed deeper divides between the candidates on the topic of healthcare. Gillespie said he believes the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.

"We are growing already at eight percent a year in terms of Medicaid being, increasing costs, and we can make healthcare more affordable, more accessible without the Medicaid expansion," said Gillespie.

But Northam argued Medicaid serves a vital role for thousands.

"No person, no family should be one illness away from financial demise or death, and so healthcare is very, very important to Virginians and they are watching very closely what's going on in Washington," said Northam.

Throughout the 90-minute debate, Gillespie made growing the economy his main focus, saying he plans to cut income taxes by 10 percent.

"We need to unleash entrepreneurship and innovators in our economy and that means a greater focus on startups and scale-ups, and if you're going to make that the focus, then individual income tax relief is the way that you help to spur that," said Gillespie.

Northam, far from committing to a tax cut, says education is his remedy for sluggish economic growth.

"Artificial intelligence, data collection, data analysis, those are the jobs. so once we know what the jobs of the 21st century are, how do we prepare the workforce?" said Northam.

Northam and Gillespie have agreed to two more public debates, with the next one happening in September in Northern Virginia.