By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Virginia gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds on Friday attempted to sharpen the contrast between himself and his Republican opponent by portraying himself in a Fairfax County speech as the bipartisan heir to recent Democratic governors.
Trailing in polls and campaigning against a headwind of declining national satisfaction with Democrats, Deeds tried in the speech and in his first general election TV ad to refocus the fall election as a choice between a governing style he said was embodied by former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner and the economic philosophy of former President George W. Bush, recently praised by Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell.
As governor, Deeds said he would offer tax credits to businesses that create jobs, expand access to higher education and back a bipartisan plan that would fund road construction through new revenue -- not by siphoning money from state schools.
"The differences between our visions for the commonwealth are stark," said Deeds, a state senator from Bath County. "I will move Virginia forward, and he will take us back."
The speech at George Mason University in Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia contained no new policy proposals and was blasted by Republicans as a stunt that was attempting to hit the "reset" button on a floundering campaign.
Deeds's advisers said they hoped to frame the campaign as the hot summer months wane and voters begin paying attention to the race. The speech was timed to coincide with Deeds's first television ad since the June primary, airing everywhere in the state except the expensive Northern Virginia market that Deeds has said he must win to capture the governor's mansion.
It was also intended to energize loyal Democrats who have been pushing Deeds to better define why he is running for governor and more aggressively challenge McDonnell's record during his 14 years as a delegate from Virginia Beach and three years as attorney general.
Deeds told a crowd of about 150 that a childhood spent in modest circumstances in a rural corner of the state helped shape his views on the importance of public education, access to college and the role government can play to help the disadvantaged.
He also sought to disqualify McDonnell with moderate voters, describing him as an ideologue with a "career-long pattern of focusing on divisive social issues," including opposition to abortion and stem cell research.
Republicans accused Deeds of distorting McDonnell's record and spending too much time focused on the past, particularly the 2004 budget battle in which Warner persuaded lawmakers to raise taxes to provide funding for government services. Deeds, who supported the budget, described the fight as a pivotal moment in moving the state forward. McDonnell, who was then in the House of Delegates, was opposed to what he has said was a massive tax increase.
"If Creigh Deeds thinks blowing the dust off an old political playbook amounts to a major new announcement, he doesn't get what the voters of Virginia are looking for in their next governor," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "Virginians need jobs and opportunity. Instead, Creigh Deeds is focused on history lessons about former governors and presidents, and trying to bring back old-time wedge politics to tear Virginians apart."
Martin said Deeds's pledge to provide a dedicated long-term funding stream for transportation amounted to a promise to raise taxes without a detailed plan for getting commuters out of traffic.
McDonnell has said he will not raise taxes and instead proposed privatizing state-run liquor stores, creating a one-time infusion of cash that could be devoted to transportation. He has also proposed diverting a portion of Northern Virginia's sales tax revenues and boosting state borrowing for roads.
Both men have said they would increase the number of college degrees awarded in Virginia and offer tax credits to expanding businesses.
But Deeds said Friday his plan would offer the incentive to a company that created even one new job, whereas McDonnell has proposed credits for companies that create 50 jobs or more. Under McDonnell's proposal, businesses that create 25 jobs or more in distressed areas would also get a credit.