7 Former GOP Legislators Endorse Deeds in Virginia Governor's Race

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

As Virginia's candidates for governor battle for the state's political middle, Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds announced Wednesday that he has been endorsed by seven former Republican delegates and senators.

Most were familiar names, Republicans who have previously expressed disenchantment with their party's leadership and have worked closely with Democrats such as former governor Mark Warner.

But two -- former state senators J. Brandon Bell II (Roanoke) and Martin E. Williams (Newport News) -- had not endorsed Democrats before in statewide races.

"I thought this race offered an opportunity of such importance that I do this," Williams said at a news conference announcing his support.

The endorsements came two days after Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and a Democratic stalwart, announced that she was backing Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell, believing him the better choice to fix Virginia's economy. The former lawmakers said they believed Deeds (Bath) was more likely to reach a bipartisan agreement on new funding for the state's troubled transportation network.

As legislators, several of them had joined Deeds in supporting proposals to raise new revenue for roads, including through tax increases, that Republicans blocked. Williams said he believed a transportation funding plan McDonnell announced Tuesday would take dollars from schools instead of providing new funding.

A spokeswoman for the McDonnell campaign, Crystal Cameron, said he "respects and understands their decisions" but has a "basic philosophical disagreement" with them.

"They are backing the candidate, Creigh Deeds, who agrees with their support of greater government spending and higher taxes on the people of Virginia," Cameron said. "Bob believes we will create jobs and grow our economy by keeping taxes on Virginians low and exercising much-needed restraint in government spending."

Others endorsing Deeds on Wednesday included former Senate president John H. Chichester Jr. (R-Northumberland), who backed Warner's U.S. Senate bid in a TV commercial last year, and former Republican senator H. Russell Potts Jr. (Winchester), who mounted an independent run for governor in 2005. Both retired from the Senate.

"In a country where we cry out for sincerity and genuineness," Potts said, Deeds is "the real deal."

Williams and Bell were defeated by Republican challengers in 2007 primary races. McDonnell, already known at the time to be running for governor, stayed neutral in the races.

Also backing Deeds were former senator Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax) and former delegates Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes (R-Richmond), James H. "Jim" Dillard II (R-Fairfax) and Katherine B. Waddell (I-Richmond).

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