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Va. Candidate McDonnell Says Views Changed Since He Wrote Thesis

One controversy that drew wide attention was an effort in the General Assembly in 2003 to end the judicial career of Verbena M. Askew, a Circuit Court judge from Newport News who had been accused of sexual harassment by a woman who worked for her. As chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee, McDonnell led the effort in the House. He said he was opposed to Askew's reappointment because she didn't disclose, as required, that she was a party to a legal proceeding.

McDonnell was widely quoted at the time as saying that homosexual activity raised questions about a person's qualifications to be a judge. Spokesman Tucker Martin said McDonnell was misquoted and does not consider homosexuality a disqualifying factor for judgeships or other jobs.

Askew, who was not reappointed, denied any wrongdoing and was never found by a court to have harassed the employee.

Republican friends who support McDonnell's campaign for governor acknowledge parting ways with some of his more conservative views. Former governor and U.S. senator George Allen said he doesn't share McDonnell's opposition to abortion in cases of rape or incest. "There should always be an exception," he said. And state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (Virginia Beach), a close friend first elected to the legislature the same year as McDonnell, described covenant marriage as "the state overstepping its bounds."

Allen, Stolle and other Republicans say that such positions represent a small piece of McDonnell's record.

McDonnell is quick to point out his promotion of criminal justice legislation, an interest that stemmed from his two years as an assistant prosecutor in Virginia Beach after his graduation from Regent. He points to a record of bipartisan cooperation as attorney general that included toughening Virginia's laws on sex offenders, cracking down on identity theft and promoting stricter laws against animal fighting. He says that he worked closely with Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, particularly in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, and that he was praised by Democrats on the day he left office for his handling of the Virginia Tech crisis and other accomplishments.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who has shared most of McDonnell's conservative positions over the years, said there is no question that the candidate is playing down his conservatism today. Marshall said McDonnell risks alienating two groups of voters: moderates who might view him as hiding his true beliefs and conservatives who might think that he is no longer conservative enough.

"If you duck something, that tells your opponents that you think your position is a liability," said Marshall, who is backing McDonnell. "Why else wouldn't you acknowledge it? But I'll tell you, I've got precinct captains who are annoyed that he's not answering these questions. He doesn't have to bash people in the head with it. But he doesn't have to put it in the closet, either. There's a balance you can take."

Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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