Videos Highlight Communication Issues for Deeds, McDonnell

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

One video shows Democrat R. Creigh Deeds struggling to answer questions about whether he would raise taxes to pay for transportation improvements. Another one features a top supporter of Republican Robert F. McDonnell's mocking Deeds's speaking style.

Together, the clips have received more than 100,000 hits on YouTube and have made the Virginia gubernatorial candidates' ability to articulate their ideas a central issue in the campaign's closing weeks.

The focus has been mainly on Deeds, who says he is not the smoothest speaker, and it has raised questions with less than a month before the Nov. 3 election over whether what the state senator lacks is polished oratorical skills or a clear vision.

McDonnell, the former state attorney general, says he would be the more poised executive, capable of traveling the globe and selling Virginia's story. Deeds (D-Bath) says that although he might not be slick as McDonnell, he is more authentic, and voters can better trust his approach.

The contrast is not new, but the dueling video clips have forced the arguments into the open this week.

At a candidates' forum Tuesday in Loudoun County, McDonnell, who carries himself with military-straight posture and answers questions with ease, repeatedly told business leaders that he would be a more decisive governor, better equipped to persuade corporate leaders contemplating relocating to Virginia and lawmakers weighing his agenda.

"I think in tough times like those we currently face, people look for decisive decision-makers," McDonnell said during the forum, which was sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.

After the forum, McDonnell stood for a session with reporters and agreed to appear Tuesday night for his second nationally televised interview in nine days. His latest TV ad, which began airing last weekend, features him looking straight into the camera and explaining his plan for transportation. It's one of several spots that feature McDonnell's face and voice.

By contrast, Deeds rarely speaks in his TV ads. His star turn on the airwaves has come in commercials produced by McDonnell's campaign and the Republican Governors Association. The spots feature footage of him searching for words when pressed by reporters after a debate last month on whether he would support a tax increase to pay for transportation improvements.

Deeds recently declined to appear jointly on Fox News with McDonnell and has not worked out time to appear on the CNBC show on which McDonnell was interviewed Tuesday.

But Deeds has a narrative, one in which the rural senator acknowledges his shortcomings as a public speaker but pledges more sincere and candid leadership.

On transportation, Deeds says his plan to convene a bipartisan commission to study the issue and sign any solution passed by the General Assembly, including one involving a tax increase, is the more honest and realistic approach. McDonnell has proposed privatizing state-run liquor stores, selling bonds and diverting money from other state services to pay for roads without raising taxes.

Deeds's effort was given a boost this week as his campaign released video footage of Sheila Johnson, a McDonnell supporter, mocking Deeds's speaking style at a McDonnell campaign event last month.

Johnson apologized after her comments were condemned by the National Stuttering Association and the Deeds campaign.

"I'm disappointed," Deeds said Monday about the incident. "And I'll be honest. If it's about being smooth or being a slick communicator, I'm never going to win that discussion. But I work as hard as I can to be honest and forthright and tell people what I think."

McDonnell declined to apologize Tuesday, saying he thought Johnson was trying to say Deeds "hasn't been able to put together a comprehensive plan, a positive vision about where he's going to take Virginia."

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