Wilder Is Tight-Lipped on Whether He'll Back Deeds

By Virginia Notebook
Thursday, July 16, 2009

This week's Notebook is a compilation of items from The Washington Post's "Virginia Politics" blog. To get your fix of Virginia politics throughout the week, check out http://blog.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics or http://www.washingtonpost.com/vablog.

The Wooing of Wilder

L. Douglas Wilder likes to keep everyone guessing.

The nation's first elected black governor has criticized state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) in the past, and Wilder declined to back him in the 2005 attorney general's race because of his position on guns.

Now that Deeds has won the Democratic nomination for governor, will Wilder support him? He won't say.

Wilder said in a recent interview that Deeds has called him a couple of times since the June 9 primary but that the two keep missing each other and have scheduled a meeting in the coming weeks. But Wilder also said that Republican Robert F. McDonnell has come calling, too.

Wilder said he wants to know where Deeds and McDonnell stand on issues before he gives his support to anyone. It's unlikely that Wilder would support a Republican, but he could decide to stay out of the race.

Wilder has not been shy about breaking ranks with his party.

In 1997, he refused to endorse Democrat Don Beyer in the governor's race, which helped Republican James S. Gilmore.

In 2006, he waited to endorse Democrat James Webb in his race against Republican George Allen until a week before Election Day.


Palin to Stump in Virginia?

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's stunning announcement that she would resign this month, in part because, she said, she wanted to be free to help other candidates, threw the spotlight on Virginia, one of two states with governor's races this year.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said in a statement that Palin is "an important and galvanizing voice" in the GOP and that she will help the party's gubernatorial candidates this fall in Virginia and New Jersey.

Palin had expressed interest in helping McDonnell earlier in he year, but the two had yet to set up an event.

Some had speculated that McDonnell would not want Palin to campaign for him because she remains a polarizing figure. McDonnell isn't saying much either way, although he did call her a "good spokesman" for the party and a successful governor.

In the meantime, there's no shortage of Republican stars willing to help McDonnell. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have had appearances with him in Virginia.


Deeds Scores Caps Owner

R. Creigh Deeds snagged a big name to head his Business for Deeds group when Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis agreed to take the job.

Leonsis, a former top executive at AOL who is also majority owner of the Washington Mystics, said that Deeds will be good for business in the state, providing necessary improvements to education and transportation. "We know without jobs, without a strong economy, none of the great programs that define the state are possible,'' Leonsis said.

Leonsis will head a group of 43 business executives on Deeds's steering committee. They also include Dominion executive Robert Blue, longtime Northern Virginia businessmen Jimmy and John T. "Til" Hazel Jr. and Austin Ligon, a top Deeds donor and co-founder of CarMax.

The involvement of the business community is going to be key in the coming months. Once loyal to the GOP, top business leaders were lured to the Democrats under Mark R. Warner and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. But Republicans have said they sense an opening, particularly over the federal card check legislation that would prohibit secret balloting in union organization.


In a Debating Mood

Robert F. McDonnell has asked R. Creigh Deeds to take part in 10 gubernatorial debates across the state.

"Virginians are tired of sound bite campaigns,'' McDonnell said. "They want to know where the candidates stand on the issues of today. And they want to hear this directly from the candidates."

Deeds said that he is eager to debate McDonnell but that his campaign is evaluating the debate requests. "I'm not going to let Bob McDonnell dictate my campaign schedule," he said.

The two have agreed to a July 25 debate at the Homestead Resort in Deeds's home county of Bath.

Usually, the candidate who is trailing in the polls is the one who asks for more debates to gain exposure, but neither is considered the underdog at this point. Instead, McDonnell might be trying to take advantage of the low expectations of the unpolished, stammering Deeds. But Deeds held his own at the five Democratic primary debates, even managing to snag a headline or two.


McDonnell Criticizes Kaine

Robert F. McDonnell used the announcement of his jobs plan to attack the man he wants to replace.

McDonnell complained that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has not used all the money available to him through the governor's opportunity fund to help attract businesses to the state. He said the account has a balance of $11 million. "If I was governor, I would be dispersing that money immediately,'' McDonnell said.

The plan, unveiled by McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), calls for doubling the fund and broadening rules to allow companies that generate additional state and local tax revenue to qualify.

Deeds was the sponsor of the original 1996 bill to create the fund, and McDonnell has voted at times to trim money from the fund.

Kaine spokeswoman Lynda Tran said the fund has been "consistently used in a prudent and results-oriented way" and that money is not distributed until the businesses that have made agreements with the state deliver on their commitments, so that it might seem money has been unallocated when it wasn't.

McDonnell and Bolling, who is running for reelection, unveiled a four-point plan that also calls for Bolling to serve as the state's chief job creation officer, designating a deputy secretary of commerce to focus on rural economic development and providing a $1,000 tax credit per job to businesses that create 50 jobs, or 25 jobs in economically distressed areas.


New Job for Henry

Mike Henry, who has a long track record of winning races for Democrats in general elections in Virginia and is seen as one of the driving forces behind the party's recent successes in the state, has signed on to manage Steve Shannon's campaign for attorney general.

Henry finds himself unexpectedly free after managing Terry McAuliffe's losing gubernatorial campaign.

Henry managed Timothy M. Kaine's campaign in 2005 and Mark R. Warner's U.S. Senate campaign last year. He also served as deputy campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Shannon's former campaign manager Roman Levit will continue as a senior adviser to the campaign.


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