Daytona Beach News Journal: Nancy Soderberg and Michael Waltz seek Volusia-Flagler Congressional seat

In the race for Congress, it’s the Ambassador versus the Warrior Diplomat.

For sure, Nancy Soderberg and Michael Waltz are different people from warring political parties.

Set that aside for a second, because their backgrounds share a lot of similarities. Both are wealthy, White House veterans, world travelers with foreign policy expertise who say they want to give back, to serve the next generations. They’ve moved to (or near enough) to Florida’s 6th Congressional District to make a run at filling the void created by Ron DeSantis’ resignation earlier this year.

Soderberg is director of the University of North Florida Public Service Leadership Program and runs her own global solutions consulting firm after serving in the Clinton White House, four years on the National Security Council, then four years as ambassador and alternate representative to the United Nations.

Waltz is CEO of an international government contracting company, an Army National Guard lieutenant colonel and Afghanistan veteran of the Green Berets who’s served as a foreign policy analyst in the Bush White House and as a Fox News contributor.

Despite their rich experience in national security, they’ve tailored campaigns to domestic concerns, each punctuating their pitches with get-it-done pledges.

Waltz, in a televised WESH-TV debate: “Only 15 percent of senators and congressmen today (as opposed to 80 percent in the 1970s) have served their country in the military. Why is that so important? Compromise can’t be a dirty word. We have to come together, and as veterans we are taught from Day 1, race, religion, gender, party, none of that matters. So that’s the ethos that I want to bring.”

Soderberg, in a sit-down interview with The News-Journal last week: “People are tired of the partisan gridlock. … Women, vets, national security officials – a lot of us are running, a lot of us are going to win and we will change the conversation. … That’s who people are voting for. They want people who can solve problems. … People know women just try to get things done, and negotiate and compromise isn’t a dirty word.”

But, alas, Waltz and Soderberg aren’t holding hands. They’re engaged in one of the most expensive congressional campaigns in Florida, having spent more than $3 million between the two of them through Sept. 30.

Soderberg’s got an ad featuring a fictional Waltz campaign staffer drowning in questions about what his health care plan will (or won’t) cover. And Waltz has an ad calling Soderberg “the handpicked candidate of Nancy Pelosi” who’s spent most of her life “doing the bidding of Bill and Hillary Clinton.”

On issues of high concern to Floridians — taxes and government spending, wages and the economy, health care and immigration — Soderberg and Waltz have differing, largely party-line views. And while many voters can’t get his name off their tongues, neither candidate appears eager to make President Donald Trump a campaign issue.

Modernizing the economy

Volusia County, which comprises about 70 percent of the 6th District, is poorer than average on many measures of income and poverty. Median home value, per capita income, percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Pre-recession, that wasn’t true in the school-meal measure. But in 2018 the percent of Volusia middle school students who qualify for free or reduced meals has grown to 65.4 percent, as the state’s percentage has dropped to 57.2, its lowest level since 2011.

Long dependent upon tourism and the fumes from special events like the Daytona 500 and Bike Week, Volusia County’s economy has seen some expansion in manufacturing, but wages haven’t kept pace with inflation. Both Waltz and Soderberg acknowledge a need for the region to diversify.

“People have to work three jobs to make ends meet here,” Soderberg told The News-Journal. “And we should have an economy here for the 21st century that means everyone has a job that you can raise a family on. So yeah, that means increasing pay. It also means paying women equal pay. Studies show if you had women paid equally, you could add half-a trillion dollars to our economy.”

She also believes in expanding access to capital for small businesses, particularly in the alternative energy field, while spending on infrastructure projects including roads, fast rail and buses.

Waltz, who did not agree to an interview with the newspaper, has his sights set on outer space.

“One of the big things I think could be transformative for this area … is the commercial space industry,” Waltz said at a Volusia County Tiger Bay debate in June. “We’re going to go from two to three launches per month to two to three per day over the next 10 years. You’re going to go from half a dozen launch sites to over 200 over the next 10 years. There’s no reason that business shouldn’t be coming here. There’s no reason Embry-Riddle (Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach) shouldn’t be in the lead.”

GOP tax plan, deficit

Waltz has said the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act “has this economy booming.” And, he’s suggested, he wants to see more in the way of tax reform.

He supports a move he admits would be “drastic,” passing the “Fair Tax,” a plan that’s been in Congress for about 20 years without movement through any committees. In short, the tax would eliminate a suite of federal taxes, including income taxes and the Internal Revenue Service and replace the lost government revenue with a national sales tax of 23 percent on new goods and services.

“If you’re not familiar necessarily with how it works, it would eliminate our debt. It would create transparency. You know exactly what you’re paying in terms of what you’re giving to the federal government, and it’s something I plan to co-sponsor,” Waltz said at the Tiger Bay debate.

Soderberg is critical of Republicans’ efforts in the Trump era.

“The Republicans put forward a tax bill that gave huge tax breaks to billionaires and special interests. They blew a $1.9 trillion dollar hole in the deficit,” she said. “And now they’re openly saying they’re going to gut Social Security and Medicare to pay for it. I think that’s backwards. We need to have a tax bill that supports working families, makes their lives easier, not harder.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week signaled a need for the next Congress to address the deficit by making adjustments to entitlement programs.

“It’s not a Republican problem. It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future,” McConnell told Bloomberg News.

During a Daytona Beach News-Journal Republican primary debate in August, Waltz edged toward suggesting he’ll consider cuts to those programs to draw down the deficit, which he considers a national security issue he won’t pass down to younger generations.

Waltz said Republicans “have to go after entitlements,” which he said represent 70 percent of the budget. But when another candidate equated the “entitlements” comment with Social Security, Waltz quickly said he wasn’t necessarily talking about Social Security. “There are all kinds of other entitlements,” he added.

Social Security and Medicare are the two largest entitlements.

Immigration reform

Both Soderberg and Waltz acknowledge a need to reform the U.S. immigration system. But their attentions are trained on different facets of the complex system.

In the Aug. 1 GOP debate hosted by The News-Journal, Waltz aligned himself more with President Trump, noting that members of Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based group considered by the United States to be a terrorist organization, have been arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Border security is national security,” he said. “I absolutely support building a wall plus some,” making reference to the need for reform to the legal immigration rules.

Waltz called sanctuary cities — the term many conservatives have used to describe cities and counties that limit cooperation with federal law enforcement in order to shield immigrants from deportation — “an anathema to our Constitution.”

During the WESH debate, Soderberg said she supports secure borders that keep terrorists out. “And I believe we need to do it in a way that is true to American values. So ripping kids out of their mothers’ arms and separating families by thousands of miles is not the right way to do this,” she said.

Congress should work to revise an “immigration system that keeps us safe but recognizes that immigrants are an important source of innovation in this country,” Soderberg said.

At an Aug. 3 News-Journal debate among Democratic contenders, Soderberg noted that 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have been founded by immigrants, helping make the case for a “rational immigration system” that includes a path to citizenship for “those who play by the rules,” such as the “Dreamers,” children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

Health care cures?

Waltz is no fan of the Affordable Care Act, saying during the August News-Journal debate attempting to comply with Obamacare “almost bankrupted my company,” and that President Obama made a major misstep when he attempted to provide universal health care rather than addressing the cost of coverage.

Before the Republican primary, one of the issues on Waltz’s campaign website was “Repeal Obamacare,” where he made references to “the back breaking cost of medical care,” which, he said is “ballooning our national debt through entitlements.”

Now, during the run-up to the general election, the language has been changed to “Affordable Healthcare: In Congress, I will work to find commonsense solutions to address the astronomical costs of healthcare. We can’t afford our premiums, and we can’t afford not to be covered.”

And during the WESH debate, he disputed Soderberg’s characterization that he will go along with any Republican plan to gut protections against insurance providers refusing coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions.

“I’m against any modification of the current health-care bills that get rid of pre-existing conditions,” Waltz said.

He would like to see the ACA replaced with initiatives aimed at lowering costs: allowing insurance plans to be sold across state lines, going after Medicaid fraud, “which is rampant,” reforming tort laws and moving people “with pre-existing conditions into high-risk pools where the government can then help them.”

Soderberg said Waltz is “on record” supporting a Republican health care proposal that failed in 2017 that she said would have left 71,000 people in District 6 and millions across the nation without insurance.

She has spoken in opposition to “government-run health care” concepts such as “Medicare for All.” She, too, says the goal of tweaking what’s left of Obamacare should be to focus on reducing costs, although her prescriptions differ from Waltz’s. They include allowing the government to negotiate down the cost of prescription drugs and pushing for more use of preventative care approaches.

Politics of Trump

Neither candidate — aware that President Trump won District 6 in 2016 by a 17 percent margin over Hillary Clinton — speaks his name much during public appearances.

During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Waltz taped a TV spot critical of Trump’s respect for veterans. But after Trump won the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency, Waltz has since said he supports “the current administration’s agenda,” and has praised its policies, but not with the warm embrace of his primary rivals, John Ward and Fred Costello.

Soderberg says she wants to work with Trump on an infrastructure bill and says the president’s approach to foreign policy is “unconventional,” but she hopes it will work. In her News-Journal interview last week, Soderberg was asked if she’s angered by Trump’s documented falsehoods, potential conflicts of interest and over-the-top tweets.

“Of course I am,” she said. “But I think the American people see through that. Look, they voted for change in 2016, but they’re going to vote again for change on Nov. 6 … because they understand government needs to work for them.”

During the August News-Journal debate, Waltz praised DeSantis and other Congressional Republicans for holding the FBI and Justice Department accountable for what they call biased investigations into Trump.

Waltz said Russia is not a U.S. ally, but Trump has been “incredibly tough” on Russia, sending missiles to Ukraine, keeping consulates closed and diplomats out. “I know the advisers around him, from Mike Flynn to H.R. McMaster to (James) Mattis and my friend John Bolton. They are turning the screws to the Russians,” Waltz said.

Where Waltz has said support for Soderberg and Democrats will lead to Trump’s impeachment, Soderberg has said she is awaiting the findings of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and the Trump campaign’s role in it.

By Mark Harper

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