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Contest Will Play Out on a National Stage in the Fall

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When they last ran against each other four years ago, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Robert F. McDonnell were little-known local politicians who battled to within 323 votes of each other out of 2 million cast in a race for attorney general.

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This time, the two men with deep roots in the state will not only battle for Virginia's highest office, but will do so in an election that is expected to draw intense national attention and be viewed as a bellwether for the Democratic Party.

Their 2005 race for attorney general was dominated by law-and-order issues. Now, the campaign will emphasize the serious pocketbook concerns facing Virginia voters and will trace the themes that dominated the primary: jobs, the environment, energy.

Already, the two have unveiled competing plans to expand access to college and have signaled that they will fight to convince Northern Virginians that they are best positioned to solve transportation woes.

Their past go-round, which ended with a lengthy recount that left Deeds embittered and itching for another opportunity to knock off McDonnell, could carry with it a sense of déjà vu, with closely matched rivals battling into the fall.

"I think we had previews and coming attractions last time," said longtime Northern Virginia GOP strategist J. Kenneth Kling. "This time will be a real barnburner."

Within minutes of Deeds's victory, the fuse was lit.

His victory speech included pointed shots at McDonnell, saying that the general election would pose a "very stark choice" and suggesting that he would continue to tie the GOP candidate to the "disastrous" economic and social policies of the Bush administration.

"I will never turn my back on the children, the seniors and the working families who are the backbone of our middle-class economy," Deeds said.

In a taped video announcement distributed after the results were in, McDonnell congratulated Deeds, but he also made a point of listing the positions that are likely to distinguish his campaign from his opponent's.

"This campaign is saying yes to new jobs for our citizens," McDonnell said. "Yes to offshore drilling and more energy. Yes to charter schools and performance pay and to real education reform, and yes to greater access and affordability at our colleges and universities to serve our young people better."

The campaigns will also almost certainly become personal.

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