In First Debate, Deeds Criticizes Va. Gubernatorial Opponents' Funding

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates R. Creigh Deeds, left, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran shake before the debate in Williamsburg.
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates R. Creigh Deeds, left, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran shake before the debate in Williamsburg. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2009

WILLIAMSBURG, April 19 -- State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds used the first debate among the Democrats running for Virginia governor to attack his two rivals Sunday, questioning the campaign contributions they received from wealthy out-of-state donors and defense contractors.

"We will not be the party of the middle class if the nominee of this party is beholden to Donald Trump and Wall Street interests or tainted defense contractors who got millions of earmarks," Deeds said. "We will have lost our way if we allow the Wall Street establishment or a corrupt political establishment to control our agenda for the next four years."

Deeds, who represents rural Bath County, has struggled in recent months to garner attention in his three-way primary with Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran, who have raised more money and attracted more media exposure.

Less than two months before the June primary, the three men agreed on most major policy issues during the debate, including the need for creating jobs and high-speed rail, support of the death penalty and gun control and opposition to the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

They spent much of the 90-minute period repeatedly and vigorously attacking Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell, mentioning him 23 times. McDonnell sent two staffers to watch the debate.

"I know Bob McDonnell," Moran said. "Bob McDonnell represents a total reversion of what we have been able to accomplish in the last eight years."

McAuliffe, Deeds and Moran are running to replace Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who is barred from running for a second term. The closely watched race could help determine whether Virginia's gradual shift toward Democratic statewide candidates is solidifying.

NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell moderated the debate, held at the College of William and Mary and sponsored by the Farm Team, a group created to help women seek public office. Hundreds of Farm Team members, supporters and college students attended the debate, which was not televised but was available online.

The three men agreed on the economy, education and housing but differed on a handful of issues. Deeds and Moran have supported tax increases for money for transportation in the past; McAuliffe said he was skeptical of raising taxes during a recession. Deeds supports allowing guns in bars; his rivals oppose it. All three oppose the marriage amendment, but only Moran said he would strive to repeal it.

The most lively part of the debate occurred when the three men were allowed to ask questions of each other, although they largely avoided answering them.

Deeds asked McAuliffe about Moran's financial support by defense contractors with business before his older brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee. McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, did not answer the question but told Deeds that he should refer the matter to the U.S. attorney general's office if he has concerns. "I can't get in the middle of that," he said.

Moran defended his campaign contributions from the defense industry. "These are Virginia companies with Virginia employees who are protecting Virginians overseas and here at home," he said.

Deeds, who has raised the least money, introduced legislation in the General Assembly to restrict campaign contributions in a state with no limits. McAuliffe and Moran indicated that they would be open to curbing fundraising.

Deeds raised $730,000 during the three-month period that ended last month. McAuliffe raised $4.2 million and Moran $800,000.

"I've got a lot of friends," said McAuliffe, explaining why 80 percent of his contributions during that period were from out of state.

The candidates, who occasionally raised their voices for emphasis, remained mostly positive and surprisingly cautious as they tried to woo the state's many undecided Democrats. "All I've said is, I will not say a negative word about a fellow Democrat, and I have honored that commitment," McAuliffe said.

The debate did little to change the dynamics of a race in which recent polls show none of the three men appearing to be winning and many voters undecided. This year's Democratic primary is the party's first contested gubernatorial nomination battle in more than two decades.

Deeds, 51, stressed his experience as a state legislator and said he is best qualified to build on the legacies of Kaine and former governor (and currently senator) Mark Warner.

"I'm proud to be the only one here who stood with them all eight years," he said.

McAuliffe, 52, a longtime McLean resident but a newcomer to state politics, is running as a "Richmond outsider." He proudly described his many years in business and as chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.

"We need a governor like Mark Warner and Tim Kaine [who] didn't come from the legislature," he said. "We have to do things differently. . . . We need a governor coming in with big ideas and big plans with the right kind of experience who has done it. I have done this my entire life."

Moran, 49, touted his work as a prosecutor, legislator and chairman of the House of Delegates' Democratic caucus. "These are serious times," he said. "I am running because we need a leader, especially in these difficult times, who will fight for them. That is what I have been doing in Virginia for 20 years."

The candidates have agreed to participate in a record number of five debates. They will appear together Thursday in Hampton.

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