The candidate for Congress stepped to the podium and began excoriating the political status quo in the nation’s capital:
"The culture of corruption in Washington can only be cured by a transfusion of new blood."
"We need new leadership and people with a vision" to end the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
In Iraq, "mistakes have been made at all levels."
And that was the Republican speaking.
Tom O’Donoghue knows he faces an uphill battle to unseat Democrat Jim Moran in the heavily liberal 8th congressional district, which comprises Arlington, Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County. He jokes that he is branded with the "Scarlet R" next to his name, a death knell for any candidate in these communities.
So in a boisterous debate in front of the Arlington Civic Federation last Tuesday, O’Donoghue, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, did his best to portray himself as an "independent thinker." The result was he spent more time castigating his fellow Republicans across the Potomac than he did bashing his opponents, who also include Independent Jim Hursyz.
"Business as usual will not be sufficient for the challenges we face here in Arlington, the commonwealth and across the country," O’Donoghue said in his closing remarks to a crowd of more than 150 at the Virginia Hospital Center.
DURING THE 45-MINUTE debate, Moran ignored his challengers and focused his criticism on the policies of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. Arguing that "in the last six years [America] has gone in the wrong direction," Moran called for the swift withdrawal of troops from Iraq, a repeal of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and an increase in car fuel efficiency standards.
Hursyz, who garnered 3.1 percent of the vote in the 2004 Congressional race, said that if elected, he would work to implement a national health care program, secure federal funding to improve non-vehicular transportation in Northern Virginia and develop alternative forms of energy.
"This county doesn’t need more asphalt and air pollution," said Hursyz, a self-employed research and development consultant. "It needs a coordinated transportation plan."
Hursyz presented himself as a "progressive independent," who will fight to protect the social safety net for middle- and low-income families. To bolster this image, Hursyz has announced he is only accepting contributions from individuals, not from any corporations or PACs.
Much of the debate centered on the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War and how long American troops should remain in that country.
Moran has consistently been one of Congress’ most vociferous critics of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, calling the war a "fiasco" and saying that Saddam Hussein did not represent a threat to America.
Iraq is embroiled in a civil war, Moran said, and therefore the American military should "immediately" begin redeploying its troops. While Americans should continue to train and equip the Iraqi army, Moran believes that there should be as little as 50,000 troops in Iraq by the middle of next year, compared to more than 130,000 currently there.
"We should not have begun the war in Iraq and we should not continue it indefinitely," said Moran, who was re-elected to an eighth term in 2004 with just under 60 percent of the vote.
O’Donoghue retorted that an immediate and unconditional withdrawal would be "naïve, irresponsible and risk destabilizing the entire region." If American soldiers left Iraq, Iran would move in to fill the power vacuum, risking a wider war, said O’Donoghue, who served in Baghdad for a year and was awarded a Bronze Star.
Instead, O’Donoghue said, troops could return home only after a series of "measurable milestones" was achieved. He did not provide specifics of what those objectives would be.
Hurysz said that the only way to quell the violence in Iraq is if a large, multi-national force replaces the U.S. military, with the costs paid for by future Iraqi oil revenue.
ALL THREE CANDIDATES stressed the need to wean the country off its addiction to foreign oil. O’Donoghue stated that developing renewable and alternative sources of energy was a matter of national security, so as to cut America’s dependence on "unfriendly" regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The easiest way to do this, Moran replied, was to raise the fuel efficiency standards in cars and light trucks, which the Republican-controlled Congress rejected last year.
If the country really wants to become more energy efficient, Hursyz argued, Congress needs to approve tax credits for companies and homeowners as incentives to implement green technologies, such as solar panels.
Though neither Moran nor Hursyz touched on immigration, O’Donoghue made it one of the centerpieces of his opening and closing statements. He said that more money must be spent on shoring up the border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigrants from inundating the country.
"We must secure our borders while keeping the gates of legal immigration open," he added.
Going against the beliefs of many in his party, O’Donoghue said he was opposed to privatizing social security, a view also held by Moran.
Meanwhile, the Democratic congressman decried the increase in the number of uninsured Americans, and scolded his Republican counterparts in the House of Representatives for passing the Medicare Part D program, which he views as a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies.
Hursyz spent much of his time criticizing Moran for being out of touch with the voters of the 8th Congressional district. He said Moran has not done enough to oppose the widening of I-66 or promote programs that would reduce residents’ dependence on cars.