As the national economy struggles to find solid footing following the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, candidates for federal office, from the presidential race down to the local congressional races, are locked in a philosophical debate over how to create more jobs and get the economy growing at a faster rate.
President Barack Obama, U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine and local Democratic congressional candidates largely favor the theories espoused by economist John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s that say government intervention and investment is the best way to stimulate the economy following an economic collapse.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, U.S. Senate candidate George Allen and local GOP congressional contenders argue in favor of supply-side economics where the government backs away from direct spending in the economy in order to let the free market and private investment right the nation's economic ship.
"For the first time in a long time, the two political parties have really engaged over the question of which grand economic policy to follow – whether it's a Keynesian stimulate-the-economy approach or a more austere approach," said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. "The two parties really represent those two sides, especially with adding (Republican vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan to the Romney ticket."
Republicans contend that the Keynesian model has failed, which they say is evidenced by the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression under Obama's policies.
Romney campaign officials point out that while the federal budget deficit sits at roughly $1.2 trillion and the national debt has risen by over $5 trillion dollars to more than $16 trillion under Obama, the national unemployment rate has been higher than 8 percent during his term and the economy is only growing at 1.7 percent.
The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics place the national unemployment rate at 8.1 percent. The unemployment rate in Virginia stands at 5.9 percent. Unemployment in Hampton Roads is 6.8 percent, down from 7.1 percent a year ago.
Republicans say those numbers show that Obama's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package, which pumped nearly $900 billion into the economy, failed.
Obama campaign officials say that since the economy hit bottom in February 2010, the president's economic policies have created 4.5 million private-sector jobs, including more than 170,000 in Virginia.
FactCheck.org points out that when public sector jobs are included, the nation has seen a net decrease of 316,000 jobs since Obama took office.
Jesse Richman, professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said – and many economists agree – that the stimulus set a bottom for the recession and kept the economy from sliding into a depression.
"It put a floor to a degree on the slide," Richman said. "It reduced the rate of decline and helped us move from decline to stabilization."
Richman and Kidd said Obama's further efforts to stimulate the economy – in particular, the 2011 American Jobs Act – have been stymied by GOP lawmakers.
In the American Jobs Act, the president proposed giving money to states to hire teachers, fire-fighters and police officers; investing in shovel-ready infrastructure projects to create construction jobs; giving tax credits to small business owners who hire new employees; and investing in renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar, to create green-technology jobs.
To partially pay for the nearly $500 billion American Jobs Act, Obama suggested raising taxes on the nation's highest income workers. This includes letting the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire for incomes over $250,000 a year.
Obama campaigned heavily for the bill, including a stop in Hampton last October, but Republicans in the Senate blocked the bill and House Republican leaders never let it come to a vote.
In contrast, Romney has said he has a five-point plan that will create 12 million jobs over the next four years.
Romney's plan focuses on energy production, education, free trade, deficit reduction and small business growth. Specifically, he would offer tax credits for small businesses, lower the corporate tax rate, cut federal regulations and repeal Obama's health-care reform law, the Affordable Care Act.