Va. Gubernatorial Hopeful McDonnell Focuses on Jobs at Campaign Kickoff

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Republican Robert F. McDonnell officially kicked off his campaign for governor yesterday at a boisterous rally in Annandale, where he pledged to reform government, improve public education, ease traffic and, most of all, bring jobs back to Virginia.

But behind the fanfare, an unprecedented battle within his beleaguered party has overshadowed the race and threatens to hamper McDonnell's campaign. Republicans across the state are fighting over whether to oust their chairman, Jeffrey M. Frederick, citing a series of missteps and internal disagreements and the party's poor showing in state elections last year.

"It's a major distraction from the stuff that matters,'' said Richard Hill, chairman of the Republican Williamsburg City Committee.

McDonnell, who secured the GOP nomination unopposed late last year, had avoided involving himself in the escalating feud for months.

But three weeks ago he publicly called on Frederick to resign. That move has prompted criticism from some who worry that disgruntled Republicans will not campaign for McDonnell in a crucial year. The party is seeking to retake the governor's mansion in a state that has voted Democratic in recent elections.

"He will make a wonderful governor for Virginia, but we have to get over this hurdle," said John Darden, a longtime activist from Louisa County who supports Frederick.

McDonnell, 54, began his six-day "New Jobs, More Opportunities" tour of the state with a mostly positive speech outlining broad policy goals that focus on creating jobs and boosting the economy, partly by cutting red tape to allow Virginians to open a business in 48 hours. He mentioned jobs 19 times.

"To every Virginian who has lost their job, to every small-business owner trying to make payroll, to every retiree afraid to look at their retirement account, to every homeowner struggling to make the next mortgage payment, to every parent worried about writing that next tuition and book check: This campaign is for you," he said to cheers.

McDonnell touted a variety of proposals -- drilling off the state's coast, creating tax-free zones for companies involved in producing renewable energy, widening Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway, increasing educational programs in high-need areas such as nursing and engineering, conducting independent audits of state agencies and creating a task force to examine ways to make life easier for working mothers.

He did not mention his Democratic opponents, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and former delegate Brian Moran by name, but he said all three would further erode Virginia's right-to-work law.

The campaign began yesterday at an Annandale fire station in recognition of McDonnell's childhood in Fairfax County. More than 500 supporters, including Rep. Frank R. Wolf (Va.) and former congressman Tom Davis greeted McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and his five children. Eldest daughter Jeanine, 28, a former Army lieutenant who served in Iraq, introduced him.

The diverse crowd included dozens of members of the region's Asian community. Supporters waved printed red, white and blue "McDonnell for Governor" signs and handmade signs that said "Bob 4 Jobs," "Welcome Home Bob" and "More Energy, More Jobs."

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