Deeds Says McDonnell's 1989 Thesis Is Relevant in Governor's Race

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Republican Robert F. McDonnell's 20-year-old master's thesis is a relevant topic for discussion in the Virginia governor's campaign because it helps shed light on his record, Democratic opponent R. Creigh Deeds said Wednesday.

"The thesis explains the social agenda that has apparently driven his legislative agenda during the years," Deeds said in an interview. "If anything, this ensures people understand there are very clear differences between me and the other guy in terms of our record. Records are important."

Deeds was making his first public comments about the paper since it had been described in a Washington Post report Sunday. He had been out of the state, attending fundraising events with top Democrats in California, as the governor's race at home became consumed with McDonnell's 1989 academic work.

In the paper, McDonnell laid out a plan for Republicans to use government to strengthen the family.

Deeds's campaign has been trying to keep public attention on the document, in which McDonnell wrote that working women were detrimental to the family and that federal child-care tax credits were harmful because they encouraged women to work outside the home.

Wednesday's comments by the Democratic state senator were designed to extend discussions of the thesis, as was a speech he made at the opening of a campaign office in Alexandria, where a volunteer held a sign that read "Working Women for Deeds."

"He wasn't 20 years old when he wrote it. He was 34," Deeds said. "Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. . . . It's relevant."

McDonnell spent the day traveling by RV to Northern Virginia, where he met with the Rappahannock Rotary Club in Fredericksburg and the editorial board of the Washington Examiner. He tried to quell talk of the thesis.

He also participated in a call with business leaders to talk about his opposition to a federal proposal to allow workers to form unions without a secret-ballot election. An advisory from the National Federation of Independent Business alerting reporters to the call said that "questions from the press will be limited" to the topic, but McDonnell left the call before questions began, citing a "scheduling conflict."

McDonnell's campaign has said that he addressed the issue during an almost 90-minute conference call with reporters Monday. During that call, McDonnell said that some of his views, particularly those about working women, have changed since he wrote the thesis as a graduate student at what is now Regent University in Virginia Beach.

A spokesman for McDonnell said Wednesday that Deeds was focusing on the thesis instead of presenting a "vision for Virginia's future."

"It's good to see Creigh has come back from California and wants to talk about records," Tucker Martin said. "We will be happy to talk about his lifetime 94 percent rating from big unions, his championing of greater government spending and his strong support for 3.5 billion [dollars] in tax hikes in just the last five years."

"Creigh should spend more time finding a transportation plan for today and less time trying to find quotes from a decades-old graduate school paper," Martin said.

Deeds said the thesis has helped crystallize differences between the men's records. He said it also proves that McDonnell pursued a "social crusade" during 17 years in the House of Delegates and as attorney general, instead of the economic development that he has made the center of his gubernatorial campaign.

Deeds said that as a delegate, McDonnell sponsored legislation to establish covenant marriage in Virginia four times, an idea in the thesis. He has also backed bills restricting access to abortions and voted in 2001 against a resolution that urged equal pay for men and women.Democrats said they think McDonnell's thesis could spark a resurgence for their candidate, who was trailing McDonnell in polls. The Democratic National Committee, chaired by Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), said Wednesday that it will spend $5 million in Virginia to try to get Deeds and other Democrats elected.

Republican activists said they think Deeds's decision to dwell on the thesis will hurt him. "They need to be careful if they are going to get into this stuff," said James Rich, chairman of the 10th Congressional District in Northern Virginia. "It's not going to fly."

Staff writer Amy Gardner contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company