Kaine, Stewart focus on policy in calm forum at Virginia Tech

Incumbent, challenger for U.S. Senate seat answered questions from students

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The conversations between the candidates and audience members created a far different atmosphere Friday in Blacksburg than the one that played out in a July debate.

Tim Kaine -- the Democratic incumbent seeking a second term, former Virginia governor and 2016 vice president candidate -- and challenger Corey Stewart, a Republican and chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, focused on policy at a forum at Virginia Tech.

The candidates spoke calmly in front of about 300 people inside a ballroom. There far fewer personal attacks than the first time the two met for an event. They were never on stage at the same time, and spent about a half hour each answering questions from the audience, which was mainly composed of students.

The forum came as a Roanoke College poll released Thursday shows Kaine has a substantial lead. There’s more on the poll below in this article.

Kaine, who spoke last, drew louder applause than Stewart did but there were plenty of supporters for both candidates among the people who attended the event. Some brought signs.

Kaine explained the key message of his campaign, making “a Virginia that works for all.” He focused in part on his desire to create jobs in the commonwealth.

“I believe in jobs for all, in education for all, and health care for all, and equality for all, and security for all, and I think that's what's on the ballot not only in Virginia but nationally,” he said.

Stewart emphasized the need for free speech and spoke against what he calls “politically correct culture.” He said he doesn’t like that some college campuses are turning away certain speakers.

“In this country now more than ever before, it's important that we have somebody who stands against the grain, and that is what I have done and that is what I continue to do,” Stewart said.

He emphasized his support for President Donald Trump, which is one of the numerous points of disagreement for the candidates, along with the Republican tax overhaul, the wall the president says he plans to fund, issues surrounding the debate over abortion rights, and many others.

Here's the full video of the forum:

Tim Kaine and Corey Stewart participate in forum at Virginia Tech

Senator Tim Kaine and candidate Corey Stewart are taking questions during a forum at Virginia Tech.

Posted by WSLS 10 / WSLS.com on Friday, August 24, 2018

The audience remained quiet throughout most of the forum, but did cut in when Stewart made a point about immigration and deporting people who are here illegally and commit crimes, citing the recent Iowa case of Mollie Tibbetts.

“If we had politicians who had any guts whatsoever we would have had laws in place to remove illegal aliens before they had a chance to murder Mollie Tibbetts,” Stewart said to reporters after the event.

Kaine said he and members of both parties are continuing to work on immigration reform.

“Do we need to enforce the laws that we have? Absolutely. Does that include border security? Sure, but I sometimes get the feeling on the Republican side they don't really want to fix it. They want to use the issue over and over again as a political issue,” Kaine said.

They both criticized aspects of the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval process.

Kaine said the government oversight procedures need to change. 

“Because of many complaints from people in this room, and others, I became convinced that that FERC process is just outdated and wrong,” he said.

He said he helped introduce a bill in the Senate to change procedures and how the agencies handle public comments.

Stewart said his issues surrounding the pipelines are with how he says the companies use eminent domain.

“I'm not against the pipeline, but I don't believe that a private corporation like Dominion or any pipeline company, should be able to use eminent domain authority to seize somebody's private property,” he said.

Kaine and Stewart also fielded questions on the economy and talked about college loan debt, saying the system needs to change in favor of students.

Student leaders were happy with the event.

“It was nice to see two very different clubs working together especially in the current political climate,” said Cole Kniatt, chairman of the Virginia Tech College Republicans.

They were happy to hear the candidates talk about the importance of college students being informed voters.

“It's really important that young people in general get involved in the political process. That's really the theme that we had with having this event,” said Payne Tarkenton, president of the Young Democrats at Virginia Tech.

The Roanoke College poll released Thursday shows that Kaine has a 17-point lead over Stewart 11 weeks away from the election, 51 percent to 34 percent.

Roanoke College said the poll surveyed 512 likely voters this month across Virginia, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. 

The poll results are similar to two other polls that organizations have conducted on the race.

There are plans for two more debates, including one in Richmond Oct. 2. The election is Nov. 6.