Four Republicans vying to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., this fall outlined their competing visions at Liberty University on Monday.

In a candidate forum that stretched a little more than an hour, Daniel Gade, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel; Alissa Baldwin, a public school teacher; Omari Faulkner, a U.S. Navy reservist; and Thomas Speciale, a U.S. Army reservist, each described why they are the best candidate to run against Warner, a two-term incumbent.

Republican voters will choose their nominee for U.S. Senate in a statewide primary June 9. The primary is open to all eligible voters, regardless of party affiliation.

With just four candidates appearing at the university’s Hancock Welcome Center on Monday, the forum represented only half of the eight senate hopefuls who have formally declared their entry into the race.

Blaine Dunn, a Frederick County supervisor; Roger Franklin Jr., a Richmond resident; Mary Knapp, a conservative activist; and Victor Williams, an Arlington attorney, either declined to attend the event or had not yet announced their candidacy by the time the event was organized, according to Nathan Hines, the chairman of the College Republicans at Liberty University, which hosted the event.

The candidates — all strangers to electoral politics — presented themselves at the forum as natural allies of President Donald Trump.

“Not only do I support the president, but the president supports me,” said Gade, an Iraq War combat veteran who was nominated by Trump to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017.

Gade eventually withdrew from consideration after his nomination languished in Congress, but he said his experience advocating for veterans and those with disabilities has given him the experience to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“This is a fight for our values as Virginians and our values of Americans,” he said. “And I’ll promise you this, I have a backbone of steel, I have grit for days and I’ll never lie to you.”

Gade, a professor at American University, has won endorsements from a handful of party insiders, including Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, and E.W. Jackson, a conservative pastor who was the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.

Baldwin, a proponent of congressional term limits, cast herself as a political outsider, eager to bring a new perspective to Washington, D.C.

“Virginia Republicans have had for too long the same types of candidates, sometimes the same names, running repeatedly time after time and they keep losing,” she said. “Win is actually part of my name, it’s in my core being.”

During her allotted time, Baldwin pledged to address rising prescription drug costs, crumbling state schools and inefficiencies in the immigration system.

Faulkner, who has experience working working for the U.S. State Department, said the upcoming election represented the best chance for Virginians to check the growing power of the state’s Democratic Party.

“When we look around the rest of Virginia today, I think we can hardly recognize what we see,” he said. “We knew the Democrats would overstep and overreach after the election. But I am truly dismayed at how far left they have gone.”

Faulkner, who is black, suggested he would be best positioned in a general election to draw minority support from Warner, and to push back against accusations the state GOP is not inclusive.

“We have to be able to reach down into those communities and we have to make other people see our conservative values,” he told the more than 60 people who gathered for the event.

Speciale, an intelligence officer, said his experience working for the military makes him the best equipped to face Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“I’m the only one who knows what the real threat is,” he said. “It’s going to take a bulldog to beat Mark Warner and I’m that bulldog.”

Warner, a former governor, enters the 2020 campaign as the heavy favorite. No Republican has won a statewide race in a decade and Democrats are coming off a strong showing in last year’s state house races.

Warner, who faces no serious primary challenge, has amassed a war chest of nearly $7.5 million, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Richard Chumney covers Liberty University for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

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