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GOP’s Gillespie visits Spotsylvania, dubs Warner ‘very vulnerable’

Ed Gillespie, a political strategist, talks about his likely Senate bid during a stop at the Four Season's Restaurant on Thursday morning, April 10, 2014.(REZA A. MARVASHTI / THE FREE LANCE-STAR )

Ed Gillespie, a political strategist, talks about his likely Senate bid during a stop at the Four Season’s Restaurant on Thursday morning, April 10, 2014.(REZA A. MARVASHTI / THE FREE LANCE-STAR )

Republican Ed Gillespie, who was in Spotsylvania County Thursday for a private meeting with pastors, says U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D–Va., is “very vulnerable” in this fall’s midterm elections.

Gillespie, 52, a longtime political strategist and favorite to win the GOP nomination to challenge Warner, says he thinks voters will be open to change after learning about the first-term incumbent’s voting record. A recent poll showed Warner with a 15-point lead over Gillespie, who has made his opposition to the Affordable Care Act a central point of his campaign.

“He has not been the independent voice that he told us he would be in the United States Senate,” Gillespie said of Warner during an interview with The Free Lance–Star at Four Seasons restaurant off U.S. 1. He met with pastors in the morning to discuss prisoner re-entry policies.

Gillespie, who was a senior advisor for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign in 2012, criticized Warner for his votes in favor of the Affordable Care Act and a budget that includes more debt and tax increases.

He also expressed opposition to the proposed federal minimum-wage increase and touted the economic benefits of natural gas drilling, otherwise known as fracking.

“I believe we need to replace the Affordable Care Act with policies that work, that do hold down health care premiums, that do allow us to keep our insurance that we like and the doctor that we trust, that doesn’t kill jobs or reduce hours worked in the work week,” said Gillespie, who didn’t spell out exactly how he would achieve those goals.

Warner, he said, wants to keep the law and “tweak” it. “That’s a pretty significant difference for voters to make a choice in November.”

On the issue of a higher minimum wage, he said such a decision should be left up to states.

President Barack Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage across the U.S. from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. In opposing that measure, Gillespie cited a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that said a $10.10 wage would eliminate about 500,000 jobs.

“It’s very important that we help people get on that first rung of the economic ladder,” he said. “And destroying that first rung for 500,000 more workers in our economy would be a mistake.”

CBO analysts also said the proposed minimum wage—a top priority for Democrats—would increase earnings for 16.5 million low-wage workers.

Asked about hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, Gillespie said he thinks the practice of drilling for natural gas should continue to be regulated by states and not the federal government. Natural gas development, he said, creates high-paying jobs, more affordable energy and is “helping to foster greater manufacturing in the United States.”

The issue has local relevance because a Texas company has leased more than 84,000 acres south and east of Fredericksburg to drill for natural gas. Opponents of fracking say the practice comes with environmental and health risks.

On the topic of hot-button social issues, Gillespie, who is Catholic, says he’s against both abortion and gay marriage. “I believe in my faith,” which says marriage is between a man and a woman, he said. “So I don’t believe in government sanction of same-sex marriage.”

Overall, Gillespie said, he plans to offer a “positive alternative” to Warner “and run on not just why Mark Warner is wrong but why my policies would be better for us.”

Meanwhile, David Turner, Warner’s campaign spokesman, said the incumbent “works in the Senate’s sensible center, which has both made Democrats angry and prompted praise from Republican colleagues.”

“While Mark Warner has been working across the aisle to solve problems for Virginians, Ed Gillespie has built a career as a million-dollar DC lobbyist and political partisan helping create much of the gridlock we see in Washington today,” Turner said in an email.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402