Cantor camp turns down invitation to free public forum
A top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the Republican will not accept a challenge from Chesterfield County’s Democratic Party to meet its own candidate, Wayne Powell, in a free public forum before the Nov. 6 elections.
“Mr. Powell has been challenging us to stand next to him on the courthouse steps for some time now,” Cantor spokesman Ray Allen said in an interview with the Observer. “He wants Eric to come down to his level and get down in the mud, and he won’t do that.”
The remarks came in response to a letter last week from Bernie Vogelgesang, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party. Vogelgesang wrote that his party is calling on Cantor “to appear in a public meeting that unlike the Chamber debate does not charge $25 for a members’ only event.”
Vogelgesang said that since the debate is open only to members of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and their invited guests, it’s not truly an open public forum.
“If you don’t know anyone on the Chamber, you won’t be able to get in,” Vogelgesang said. “That deprives the public of seeing exactly where Wayne Powell and Eric Cantor stand on the issues.”
The Cantor campaign says the event is a public forum.
In challenging the longtime incumbent, Powell, a 61-year-old lawyer from Richmond, is making his first run for Congress.
The 7th District covers much of the Richmond region, including Chesterfield, and extends west to Orange and Louisa counties. Cantor was first elected to represent the district in 2000.
Vogelgesang noted that while Cantor has run for the 7th District’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives six times, he has debated only one of his opponents – “Dukes of Hazzard” actor and former Georgia congressman Ben “Cooter” Jones in 2002.
Vogelgesang also claimed that Cantor has ignored several letters from Powell’s campaign requesting an open forum before 7th District voters.
“It’s hubris,” Vogelgesang said during a telephone interview. “Congressman Cantor doesn’t believe he has to participate in the democratic process. Why doesn’t he just come out and support his ideas?”
Powell advisor Dave “Mudcat” Saunders took exception with the suggestion that Cantor was above “getting down in the mud.”
“It is well-known that Cantor wallows in Washington mud with such notables as Las Vegas Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Jack Abramoff, the most notorious felon in the history of lobbyist crooks, who raised money for Cantor and even named a sandwich after him at his upscale D.C. restaurant before he went to jail,” Saunders said via e-mail.
Powell has raised questions throughout the campaign about Cantor’s out-of-state fundraising connections. Powell’s campaign printed mock real estate signs that suggest his opponent has been bought by big-money special interests; his own signs, in contrast, proclaim that Powell is “Not for Sale.”
Allen scoffed at the notion that Cantor, a six-term incumbent and a leader of House Re- publicans, would duck a public meeting with Powell. Allen pointed out that Cantor agreed last month to debate Powell on Oct. 1 at the Carmax corporate headquarters in Henrico County.
Allen claimed that Powell’s constant criticism of Cantor is one reason why the Democrat “isn’t getting any traction at all” in the conservative-leaning 7th District.
“We’re good, decent suburban people and we don’t live our lives calling people bastards,” Allen said. “Wayne Powell is a man of low character and high crassness. We expect our congressman to be a leader, not a bully.”
Retorted Saunders: “If Cantor has a problem with the level of discourse in this race, I’m fine with that. We sure have a problem with the level of discourse he has created in Washington as the majority leader of that munchkin colony.”
Allen insisted he “isn’t the least bit concerned” about Powell’s willingness to attack Cantor during the Chamber debate. (The debate will be moderated by Bob Holsworth, founding director of both the Center for Public Policy and the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.)
“Eric has been doing this a long time and he has a thick skin,” Allen said.
Cantor also has a powerful advantage in terms of name recognition and fundraising, but Vogelgesang doesn’t think it’s wise to hand the incumbent the victory prior to the candidates’ debate.
“I know it’s what I’m supposed to say, but I really think Wayne has a shot,” he said. “Wayne is delivering the message of accountability and doing a great job of it. He’s running the campaign that needs to be run in the 7th District.”