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

The story quickly spread on liberal blogs, including Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post. By late afternoon, more than 70 blogs had picked up the thread.

Democrats have long attempted to characterize McDonnell as an ultra-conservative who is playing down his views on such issues as abortion, school prayer and gay rights so as not to alienate moderate voters, particularly in Northern Virginia, who increasingly decide statewide elections.

But McDonnell's public record and his reputation among colleagues paint a more complex portrait. He appears as a man with deeply conservative views that spring from a strong Catholic faith but also as reasonable, open-minded and increasingly focused on such issues as jobs and transportation.

"What I found in him is exactly what I found in Tim Kaine: A man with a considerable intellect, who is prepared to think and rethink constantly," said Randal J. Kirk, who was Kaine's biggest individual donor in 2005. Kirk said he is considering a donation to McDonnell.

By disavowing earlier views on working women and the traditional family and saying little on abortion and gay marriage, McDonnell is choosing to appeal to moderates and suburban women -- but might alienate the conservative base.

"There are three ways to lose," said Patrick M. McSweeney, a former state GOP chairman and a standard-bearer of the party's right wing. "One is you can state a position that is controversial and offend a lot of people. Second, you can not take a position and offend people who want leaders. And third, you can back away from a previously held view. But the worst thing to do is to lose votes in all three of those areas."

The reaction of women and moderates was hard to measure Monday. Democratic legislative candidates in Northern Virginia said they were stunned at the number of voters they encountered who had read about the thesis and were dismayed by it. The Deeds campaign reported signing up 300 donors since Sunday.

"If you're going to run on a jobs platform, how do you do that when you relegate half of the working population to second-class status? Because that's what this paper he wrote reveals," said Del. Margaret G. Vanderhye (D-Fairfax).

Some Republicans said they had heard little reaction. Others said party activists were energized, convinced that McDonnell is being unfairly attacked over an old academic paper. Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said attendees Sunday at a Republican Women's Club rally in Fairfax said they were incensed over what they called a "hatchet job."

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