Virginia Notebook April 2, 2009

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran attacked rival Terry McAuliffe's presence at a fundraiser.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran attacked rival Terry McAuliffe's presence at a fundraiser. (Steve Helber - AP)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

RICHMOND Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran lodged his most aggressive attack against rival Terry McAuliffe last week for attending a Washington fundraiser hosted by a top Republican lobbyist.

But McAuliffe was ready.

He swiftly unveiled a package of proposals designed to make government more transparent, including a ban on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. He sent out his first campaign mailer about government and corporate accountability. He pledged to refuse campaign contributions from companies that receive federal bailout money.

It was the first time McAuliffe's campaign was forced to respond to an attack since he jumped into the governor's race in January. More are expected.

McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who once ran a law firm with a lobbying arm, will continue to be targeted for his lack of connections to state politics and his long history as a Washington political insider in the run-up to the June 9 primary.

Moran, who gave up his seat and a coveted leadership position in the House of Delegates, and McAuliffe, a national figure running for office for the first time, have nothing to lose by waging an aggressive battle for the Democratic nomination. Their opponent, R. Creigh Deeds, who will keep his job as a state senator from Bath if he doesn't win, remains content to sit back, quietly building up support while the other two try to knock each other down.

Democrats are bracing for the primary to take a much more negative turn next month, potentially hurting the nominee's chances to compete against Robert F. McDonnell, the Republican party's best chance at winning the governor's mansion in years.

Moran and Deeds had been involved in state politics for decades and laying the groundwork to run for governor for years when McAuliffe got into the race unexpectedly.

McAuliffe, the ultimate Washington insider, pitched himself as a Richmond outsider who could, and would, change the way state government works.

Democratic strategist Kristian Denny Todd, who worked on Sen. James Webb's 2006 campaign, called McAuliffe's strategy smart and said she expects his mantra about government change to be effective, the way it has been in other races, even if it's coming from someone who is tied to Washington. She said his campaign mailer about the bonuses received by AIG executives will resonate in Northern Virginia, where federal issues are local issues.

She said it seems "crazy" that someone with McAuliffe's strong ties to "fat cats" and "corporate people" would attempt to crusade against them. "But you can't run away from it."

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