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Choice Among 3 Democrats for Virginia Governor Largely Comes Down to Style

The Democratic candidates for governor, from left, Brian J. Moran, R. Creigh Deeds and Terry R. McAuliffe, faced off last month at Northern Virginia Community College's Annandale campus, the last of several debates. Polls show that most voters have remained undecided as the primary election draws near.
The Democratic candidates for governor, from left, Brian J. Moran, R. Creigh Deeds and Terry R. McAuliffe, faced off last month at Northern Virginia Community College's Annandale campus, the last of several debates. Polls show that most voters have remained undecided as the primary election draws near. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 4, 2009

RICHMOND -- Virginians will head to the polls next week to choose a Democrat to face Republican Robert F. McDonnell in what is expected to be a fiercely contested governor's race this fall.

R. Creigh Deeds, Terry R. McAuliffe and Brian J. Moran are running to replace Timothy M. Kaine (D) in a closely watched campaign that could help test the trend that has put Democratic candidates in command of statewide elections.

Polls show that most voters have remained undecided in the days leading to Tuesday's primary, the party's first contested gubernatorial nomination battle in more than three decades.

Deeds, McAuliffe and Moran agree on most major issues, including the need for new jobs and high-speed rail and support for the death penalty, increasing teacher salaries and enforcing immigration laws.

They have clashed on a handful of issues. Moran opposes drilling for oil and gas off Virginia's coast while McAuliffe supports gas drilling and Deeds is open to both. All opposed the 2006 constitutional amendment banning contractual agreements to sanctify same-sex relationships, but only Moran has said he would work to repeal it.

With the three men agreeing on most policies, the race has turned largely into a contest centered on style and personality.

Deeds, 51, a state senator from Bath County, spent years working toward a run for governor after a failed race for attorney general in 2005. He was the first candidate to jump in the race in 2007 and has been traveling the state touting an economic plan designed to boost the number of "green" jobs while investing substantially in transportation and higher education to create a climate designed to entice businesses to Virginia.

He has stressed his lengthy legislative record: helping create an emergency alert system for missing children, establishing a fund to help lure businesses to the state, cracking down on methamphetamine production and writing some of the country's most progressive laws on land conservation.

But his district is a mostly rural, conservative area in the central and western parts of the state. He voted to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions on the ballot and has repeatedly supported gun rights, including opposing a one-handgun-a-month limit on purchases. In recent years, though, he said he has changed his mind on some of those issues. One of his most high-profile measures was a 2001 constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish.

"This primary is really about who can go best head to head, who's got the best chance against Bob McDonnell, and who's going to stand up for Virginia's middle-class families, who's going to stand up for working Virginians," Deeds said.

After years of helping run the others' campaigns, including most recently chairing longtime friend Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid last year, McAuliffe surprised many in Virginia when he became a candidate.

Despite being a 17-year resident of McLean, McAuliffe, 52, is far better known on the national scene, where he was the Clintons' chief fundraiser and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Now he's bringing his thick national Rolodex, considerable fundraising prowess and seemingly boundless energy to his campaign.


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