By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 31, 2009
RICHMOND, May 30 -- Robert F. McDonnell officially accepted the Republican nomination for governor Saturday and lodged his most aggressive attacks to date against Democrats, accusing them of opposing new energy sources that would create much-needed jobs.
"On energy, our opponents will say no to offshore drilling, no to clean coal, no to nuclear and no to the new jobs and investment that come with it," McDonnell said. "When it comes to promoting energy independence, they'll just say no, we'll just say yes!"
McDonnell, 54, a former legislator and the state's attorney general until earlier this year, was greeted with extended applause from a boisterous crowd of more than 10,000 Republicans from across the state. Despite lingering ideological divisions in their party, they came to Richmond to unite around the candidate they hope can help them reverse years of political losses.
"Go, Bob, go!" they chanted as they waved signs.
The closely watched race, one of only two statewide contests in the nation this year, is seen by some as the first sign of whether Republicans can start winning key elections again. It has attracted millions of dollars in national money and a slew of surrogates.
"His candidacy is part of a Republican renaissance that starts this year in Virginia," said Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "It is going to be a tough fight, but we are well positioned for victory in November."
McDonnell and his newly selected running mates, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), the attorney general nominee, will embark on a six-city fly-around of the state Monday to coincide with a new TV ad blitz.
"It's okay to be disappointed about elections we've lost . . . but it's not okay to be discouraged," Bolling said. "We're more optimistic than we've ever been about our chances of winning these elections in November."
Levar Stoney, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, quickly proclaimed the three as "the most divisive ticket in modern Virginia history."
"The 2009 Republican ticket is a winner for far right-wing ideologues who block progress in Richmond," Stoney said.
Pat Mullins, a longtime Fairfax County GOP leader, defeated Bill Stanley, the Franklin County party chairman, to succeed ousted GOP chairman Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William County. The conflict over leadership has divided the party for months, but Saturday many supporters of Stanley and Frederick pledged to come together to support McDonnell.
"Let's go forward from here," said Howie Lind, a Loudoun County delegate who supported Frederick and Stanley.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) is barred from seeking another term. Democrats will choose among state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and former state delegate Brian Moran as their nominee in a June 9 primary.
Saturday's event, the largest in 15 years, had the feel of a national political convention, with colorful signs (white and blue "Bob's 4 Jobs" and purple "Women for McDonnell"), hawkers selling cardboard cutouts of potential presidential candidate Mitt Romney and activists wearing "No Bama" buttons and "Guns Save Lives'' stickers.
Jerry W. Kilgore, former attorney general and the Republican nominee for governor in 2005, said that the party faces some divisions but that Republicans are anxious to weaken the Democrats' power in Washington and Richmond. "It's fired up the people," he said.
Bolling easily beat Alexandria lawyer Patrick Muldoon in the vote for lieutenant governor and will face either former state finance secretary Jody Wagner or Michael Signer, a national security expert, in November.
Cuccinelli, one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly and the only remaining Republican senator in Northern Virginia, defeated former federal prosecutor John Brownlee and David M. Foster, former chairman of the Arlington County School Board. He will face Del. Stephen C. Shannon (D-Fairfax).
McDonnell, a social and fiscal conservative who secured the nomination late last year when no one else filed to run, is trying to appeal to swing voters in the mold of recent successful statewide candidates, including Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and James Webb. He pledged to reform government, improve public education, ease traffic and bring jobs to Virginia, but his biggest applause came when he told the largely conservative crowd that he would protect the "unborn" and drill for oil and gas offshore.
McDonnell and Bolling, intent on adapting to a changing state, have sought to play down their focus on ideology and such hot-button issues as gun rights, immigration and abortion. But that might be difficult with a ticket that includes Cuccinelli, who has said that abandoning conservative principles is a betrayal of values.
Cuccinelli won after a raucous speech in which he proudly called himself "the most aggressive pro-life leader in the Virginia Senate." Supporters waved 300 large, yellow American Revolution-era flags emblazoned with a coiled snake and the legend "Don't Tread on Me."
Romney headlined the convention's kickoff dinner, offering this advice: "What Republicans have to do is stay true to their principles."