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Race to Richmond

2009 election for Virginia governor | Latest News | Daily Roundup | Candidate Tracker

Thesis Thrusts Va. Gubernatorial Candidate's Past Views Into Spotlight

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By Amy Gardner, Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Virginia governor's race ignited Monday over Republican Robert F. McDonnell's 20-year-old graduate thesis: Democrats assailed him in e-mail blasts and interviews for what he wrote about working women, homosexuals and "fornicators," and McDonnell tried to explain his views to crucial moderate and female voters.

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After a sleepy summer filled with rural RV tours and policy papers on energy and the economy, news of the thesis, first reported Sunday in The Washington Post, pushed the race to a fever pitch.

McDonnell's opponent, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, bombarded state and national media with details of the thesis, submitted by McDonnell in 1989 for a master of arts in public policy and juris doctorate in law from Regent University in Virginia Beach.

McDonnell, meanwhile, spoke by telephone to reporters for nearly 90 minutes, saying that his views have changed on many of the issues he explored as a graduate student. He also released a list of women who support his campaign.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised that my opponent wants to make this a central issue in the campaign," said McDonnell, the former state attorney general and a 14-year veteran of the House of Delegates. "During my years in the General Assembly, Senator Deeds would suggest that I have this undue focus on social issues. That's just a flat misrepresentation."

In the thesis, "The Republican Party's Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of The Decade," McDonnell described working women as "detrimental" to the traditional family. He criticized a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing contraception for unmarried couples and decried the "purging" of religion from schools. He advocated character education programs in public schools to teach "traditional Judeo-Christian values," and he criticized federal tax credits for child care expenditures because they encouraged women to enter the workforce.

In his call with reporters Monday, a calm and prepared McDonnell explained in detail how he feels about issues that include gay rights, abortion and women's rights. He mentioned several times that on some issues he agrees with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), the state's first Catholic governor, as well as with President Obama.

McDonnell said he still believes marriage should be limited to one man and one woman but thinks that discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or marital status has no place in government or on the job. He said that he no longer agrees with what he wrote about women in the workforce and that regardless of his personal views, he "would follow the law," as he did as attorney general.

With a recent Washington Post poll giving McDonnell a substantial lead, Deeds and other Democrats sought Monday to shift the momentum.

McDonnell has focused his campaign on job creation, a message that has resonated with pro-business moderates. On Monday, Democrats focused on McDonnell's conservatism.

The Deeds campaign sent out a fundraising appeal with the thesis as its main focus. The state Democratic Party produced a video, "Bob McDonnell's Secret Blueprint for Virginia," setting a news report about the document to driving, apocalyptic classical music. And Kaine, who is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that after years of working with McDonnell in Richmond, he was "not surprised" by what he read in the thesis.

"To me, it seems like kind of a blueprint of, 'Here's what I hope to do as an elected official,' and I think he's been working diligently to do that," Kaine said.


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