Va. Gubernatorial Candidates Off to Fast Start

After winning the Virginia Democratic primary, state Sen. Creigh Deeds spoke to supporters at a rally in Charlottesville. Deeds defeated candidates Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran. Video by NewsChannel 8. Editor Mike Schmuhl/The Washington Post
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009

RICHMOND, June 10 -- Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Robert F. McDonnell began outlining the broad themes of their campaigns for governor Wednesday in a race that will focus heavily on jobs and the economy and take on national political significance for both parties.

Just hours into the general election, Deeds told hundreds of sign-waving supporters at a rally here that he would bridge partisan and regional divides in the mold of two moderate Democrats, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. McDonnell conducted a series of drive-time radio interviews to tell listeners that he would serve as a fiscal watchdog bent on reining in spending in Richmond.

The candidates were quick to begin trading accusations that their opponent appealed to the fringe of his party. McDonnell, Deeds said, opposes abortion rights, stem cell research and federal stimulus money. "The contrast this fall could not be more stark,'' he said. "Bob McDonnell has a social and economic agenda that will take us back."

McDonnell, in turn, said Deeds would be a poor steward to guide the state through a recession. "My philosophy is to keep taxes, regulation and litigation low," he said. "He set a record of doing something different."

The two men spoke once, cordially, shortly after Deeds addressed supporters Tuesday night to celebrate winning his party's nomination in a blow-out election. "I just said, 'Bob, I look forward to a clean, fair fight,' " Deeds said.

But Wednesday foreshadowed what could become a fractious general election.

In a state where a decade of trend lines have shown the northern suburbs exerting increasing political power, Deeds and McDonnell both signaled that much of the fall campaign will be fought over who best appeals to Northern Virginia voters. Deeds bases his claim on the region in part on the fact that he won a majority there Tuesday. McDonnell says he's a natural fit because he grew up there. "I'm the Northern Virginia candidate,'' McDonnell said during one interview.

Even before the Democratic primary had ended, though, Democrats had started revving up efforts to peg McDonnell as a social conservative and embarked on $3 million TV campaign describing him as a candidate who would be unfriendly to working people.

Republicans, who appeared to be caught off guard by Deeds's come-from-behind victory, began distributing information immediately to reporters Tuesday night, describing the new Democratic nominee as a candidate who would spend recklessly and increase taxes.

Deeds, they said, backed a 2004 tax package helmed by Warner that resulted in new investments in state services. Deeds also has backed a succession of proposals to use new tax dollars for transportation. Last year, he voted for an ultimately unsuccessful proposal to raise the gas tax by 6 cents over six years. The vote came while gas prices were high. Republicans signaled that the gas-tax vote could become a highlight of their campaign.

That vote was the first bullet point on a Republican Governors Association e-mail welcoming Deeds to the race. The e-mail was headlined "Deeds: High Taxes, Unelectable."

Also immediately clear yesterday was that Virginia's high-stakes governor's race -- one of two statewide races in the nation this year -- will draw aggressive involvement by national leaders in both political parties.

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