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Democrats Vying for Va. Governor Have Similar Messages but Not Styles

The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman discusses the difference in tone and rhetoric used by the Democratic candidates vying for governor in the Commonwealth. Video by Audio by Sarah Lovenheim

There is some irony in the fact that Deeds is the most experienced statewide candidate in the field. He came within 323 votes of beating McDonnell when the two competed for attorney general in 2005.

McAuliffe, by contrast, has an abundance of polish with none of the statewide experience. A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he carries with him the political celebrity of a man who is close friends with a former president and the television camera.

His voice booms so loudly that heads swivel when he enters a room. He speaks quickly, cramming in ideas, one on top of the other, and then breathlessly ending with a smile, as if to say, "You got all that?"

McAuliffe is always selling: himself, his plans and, he promises, Virginia. He says he will use those personal gifts to coax corporate executives to bring jobs to the state.

Those skills won McAuliffe the support of Randal J. Kirk, a billionaire who has given more than $600,000 to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and had also been approached by Deeds and Moran. During a three-hour lunch at Kirk's Radford home in October, the biotech investor, who sold greeting cards door-to-door at age 9, said he saw a bit of his own executive savvy in McAuliffe. He has contributed $106,000 so far.

McAuliffe "looks like the guy who wants to get you into a LeSabre," Hamsher said.

After 13 years in the House of Delegates, Brian Moran is a self-possessed insider who can enter a political rally knowing most of the audience. He spent long years as head of a Democratic caucus, showing up in far corners of the state to campaign for local Democrats whose odds of winning election were sometimes slim.

It's a fact he takes care to point out, singling out the local school board members, city council members and party bosses in every audience. Many have endorsed his candidacy.

"I've actually been and traveled on Route 58 many times -- in fact, my roommate Ward Armstrong doesn't let me forget about Route 58," Moran told a crowd in Danville last week, chuckling, when asked about his support for extending the long east-west highway along Virginia's southern border. Armstrong, a popular delegate from the area, shared quarters with Moran during General Assembly sessions.

Moran still speaks with a heavy Massachusetts accent that comes from growing up the youngest of seven children in the working-class town of Natick. His father was a probation officer, and he relies on his lean childhood to help build a narrative in which he stars as the underdog fighter, standing up for Virginia's unemployed against corporate interests.

Facing a fundraising juggernaut from McAuliffe, Moran has grown more serious and even biting on the trail. It's a stark contrast to the buoyant McAuliffe. It has left some voters wondering whether Moran is joyless, while others have seen a serious man for serious times -- better prepared to govern through adversity.

The three candidates will spend the next five weeks working to distinguish themselves on issues. But in the meantime, voters may study each man's temperament, said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a communications professor at George Mason University.

"When you don't have the cues of partisanship and the policy differences tend to be pretty minimal, character can be the trump card," he said.

Staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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