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Divisive Issues No Longer McDonnell's First Words

Bob McDonnell, battling a strong Democratic tide in the recent races for Virginia's highest offices, plans a campaign more moderate than his legislative record.

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McDonnell graduated from the law school Robertson founded in the name of his Christian Broadcasting Network. The school, now called Regent University, urged Christians to become leaders, spreading their values as they worked to change society.

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McDonnell delivered. He became a leading voice on social issues in the legislature, promoting covenant marriages -- in which couples can agree to strict vows that are more difficult to sever -- and introducing proposals to require women to wait 24 hours and receive detailed information before an abortion. He supported efforts to require notification of parents before a minor has an abortion and to ban what some people call partial-birth abortions.

As attorney general, McDonnell offered legal advice that some construed as ideological. Kaine was told that he lacked the authority to issue an executive order barring state agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

"I said, 'Wow, I think it odd that I don't have the legal authority to tell my at-will employees . . . they can't discriminate,' " Kaine recalled.

Both McDonnell and his supporters say his record shows he shares the values of most people in Virginia, where a larger percentage of voters backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2006 than voted for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in 2008.

"It's easy to throw labels out there and to try to identify your opponent in a way that tries to scare the public," McDonnell said. He said he won't let that happen.

In December, when the four candidates for governor shared the stage for the first time, McDonnell stuck to his script. He said his focus on welfare reform, Internet safety and reducing drunken driving was intended to appeal to new voters, younger residents and minorities -- swing voters for a new era in Virginia politics.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.


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