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Virginia Notebook: Debate Could Answer Questions About Governor's Race

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009

In some ways, a political campaign doesn't really get started until the two candidates share a stage and debate in front of a studio audience.

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By that measure, this year's race for governor will begin Saturday at 11 a.m. sharp, when Republican former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell and Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) meet for the first of what promises to be several debates before the Nov. 3 election.

Here are five questions that could be answered Saturday:

-- Will the candidates debate debating at the debate?

It's become part of the Kabuki theater of modern-day campaigning, the call and response of debate challenges and accusations of debate ducking. McDonnell got out of the gate on this one early this year, calling for 10 debates in an attempt to send a message that his articulate and telegenic speaking style will match up well against Deeds's more unpolished and halting approach. Deeds responded that he would not let McDonnell dictate his schedule but agreed the two would probably meet three times, the same number as during the 2005 governor's campaign.

After some bad press, Deeds announced this week that he would be attending 10 forums and debates and challenged McDonnell to appear as well.

It's unclear whether voters ever follow these debates about debates or care much about the outcome. Saturday's event will be 75 minutes long. Will either candidate expend some of those precious minutes discussing their schedule?

-- Who will invoke the president's name?

McDonnell has raised eyebrows by using the name of the popular president of the opposite party in connection with some of his education proposals, like merit pay for teachers -- supported by President Obama.

But poll numbers show that the popularity of Obama's policy proposals has started to soften. How are Virginians, who backed Obama in November and handed the state to a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 40 years, feeling about the president these days? Deeds and McDonnell will give some indication of what they think Saturday.


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