Va. Gubernatorial Hopefuls Throw Out Their First Pitches

Robert F. McDonnell (R), second from left, joined Democrats Terry McAuliffe, left, R. Creigh Deeds and Brian J. Moran at an informal debate in Richmond.
Robert F. McDonnell (R), second from left, joined Democrats Terry McAuliffe, left, R. Creigh Deeds and Brian J. Moran at an informal debate in Richmond. (Associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

RICHMOND, Dec. 2 -- While three of the four men vying to be Virginia's next governor talked up their lengthy résumés in state government Tuesday, newcomer Terry McAuliffe pitched himself as a Richmond outsider who could change government.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and Del. Brian J. Moran, both Democrats, and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, all have years of experience on Capitol Square. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, has lived in McLean for two decades but has had little involvement in state government or politics.

"I think there is an opportunity for someone who has not been in Richmond who can come in with some new ideas," McAuliffe said.

The four likely candidates shared the stage for the first time at a debate Tuesday, unofficially launching a yearlong campaign for the state's top job by answering questions from journalists in front of a packed room in downtown Richmond.

The informal debate centered more on personality and records and less on issues. Most of the attention landed on McAuliffe, a nationally known political celebrity who calls Bill and Hillary Clinton close friends and appears on Sunday morning talk shows, but whose views on key state issues are virtually unknown.

McAuliffe came prepared -- both to combat criticism and to exhibit his command of Virginia facts and figures.

He easily rattled off statistics about how many hours Virginians spend stuck in traffic each year, how many poultry farmers work in the state and how many people are unemployed in one of its most financially distressed cities, Martinsville.

McAuliffe, 51, repeatedly mentioned his McLean address, his business credentials and his support for Democrats across the state, including what he described as large donations to the last two governors, Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine.

The candidates, seated at a table and dressed in dark suits, all claimed superior leadership qualities and accomplishments. They clashed occasionally but still referred to each other as "my friend."

Moran pointedly told McAuliffe, a consummate fundraiser who could bring millions of dollars to the race, that "Virginia is not for sale." McAuliffe reminded Moran that he was not the only one who has started a successful business in Virginia. "Do your research," he snapped.

The three Democrats attacked each other more than the lone Republican.

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

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