Clear Path to Governor's Race

Robert F. McDonnell, shown in 2005, says he has cracked down on sexual predators and promoted Internet safety.
Robert F. McDonnell, shown in 2005, says he has cracked down on sexual predators and promoted Internet safety. (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2008

RICHMOND, Nov. 7 -- Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell has automatically become the Republican nominee for governor because no one else filed to run by this week's deadline.

After several years of Republican losses in Virginia, next year's race for governor will help determine whether the party can regain its appeal or whether Democrats will continue to have an advantage in statewide elections.

McDonnell said at a news conference Friday that the 2009 elections in Virginia will be different than this year's federal elections, when an unpopular president and a national economic crisis helped Democrats win the White House and gain seats in Congress.

"Anytime you lose, you aren't happy," he said. "We're obviously very concerned about that. But . . . we think many of the dynamics that occurred in 2008 will be vastly different in 2009."

McDonnell's lack of opposition means he will have the spring and summer to raise money, organize his campaign and develop a message heading into next year's general election. Democrats, meanwhile, will be fighting each other in a primary. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) and Del. Brian J. Moran (Alexandria) have announced their candidacies, and Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is considering a run.

McDonnell, 54, will try to appeal to swing voters by touting himself as a moderate Republican who has cracked down on sexual predators, promoted Internet safety and reformed property rights.

A former state legislator who spent two decades in the military, he has strong ties to the state's two most populous areas, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. He grew up in Fairfax County, moved to Hampton Roads when he was an adult and maintains extensive ties to the state's veteran community.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a former state senator and the only other remaining statewide-elected Republican after this week's election, considered running for governor but decided in the spring to run for reelection and support McDonnell.

McDonnell and Bolling, social and fiscal conservatives, have been running as a unified ticket by creating signs and buttons, appearing together and forming an advisory group to help them devise possible solutions to Virginia's problems.

With Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) barred from seeking a second consecutive term, Democrats are facing their first contested primary for governor in more than two decades.

Although McDonnell and Bolling might agree with each other, "the people of Virginia don't agree with them," said Jesse Ferguson, Moran's spokesman. "Virginians rejected their philosophy again on Tuesday. Delegate Moran looks forward to a campaign on his vision for Virginia against the Republican nominee."

Deeds's spokesman would not comment.

"I think Bob McDonnell is a formidable candidate," said Mo Elleithee, a consultant to McAuliffe. "He's a very strong candidate, but he has a very weak message."

Bolling will face Alexandria lawyer Patrick Muldoon for the Republican nomination to run for lieutenant governor. Muldoon unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1996.

Former finance secretary Jody W. Wagner and Jon Bowerbank, a wealthy businessman from Russell County, are seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. State Democratic Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell is also considering a run.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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