Va. Republicans Restock Election Arsenal With Tax Assertions

Robert McDonnell does not intend to sign a pledge against raising taxes.
Robert McDonnell does not intend to sign a pledge against raising taxes. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Virginia Republicans, eager to rejuvenate their party, already are turning to an issue that has been one of their most reliable: taxes.

Within moments of state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds's victory speech June 9 after the Democratic primary for governor, the Republican National Committee sent a blast e-mail saying that Deeds had a history of raising taxes. The day after the election, the Republican Governors Association declared that Deeds's record on taxes made him "unelectable."

The strategy has not been particularly successful in Virginia in recent election cycles. Republicans claimed that Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine would raise taxes, and both Democrats won the governorship pretty handily.

But neither Warner nor Kaine had served in the General Assembly. With Deeds, Republicans have an opponent with an 18-year record in the state Senate and House of Delegates. That record includes votes on taxes and spending that have gridlocked Richmond in recent years.

This year's campaign is also being fought against the backdrop of a budget deficit and polls showing increasing anxiety nationally about rising government spending. The election also will come 10 months after President Obama, a Democrat, took office -- and Virginia, which elects a governor the year after presidential elections, has chosen a candidate from the opposite party than the one in the White House for the past 30 years.

"Obama seems to have a little bit of what [former president Ronald] Reagan had going for him, in that a lot of people like him personally even if they are unsure about his policies," said Frank Atkinson, a Republican lawyer and author of "The Dynamic Dominion," a book about Virginia politics. "To the extent that independent swing voters tend to want to check excess by the party in power, the excess they mainly want to check relates to economic issues, especially taxes, spending and debt."

The challenge for the Republican candidate, former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell, will be to paint Deeds as a reckless spender without making himself look like an extremist who would starve government services. McDonnell already has taken heat from the right for announcing that he does not intend to sign a pledge against raising taxes.

"We get so many requests for pledges to do this and that," McDonnell said in a recent interview. "I believe I'm going to say what I believe in, what I stand for, and then the voters will be able to determine what they think about that."

But, he added, "I think in a down economy like this, it's a very bad time to be levying more gas and sales tax on the hardworking citizens of Virginia."

Deeds, too, has said he does not intend to propose a tax increase. But he has promised to try to fix the state's roads and rails -- an issue often assumed to carry a $1 billion-a-year price tag -- in his first year in office.

McDonnell has already been pointing to Deeds's Senate voting record on transportation as proof that the Democrat would raise taxes.

For instance, since 2004, Deeds has supported five proposals that included some form of increase in the gas tax. Each was intended to raise money for transportation improvements, and each was blocked before final passage.

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