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Race to Richmond

 Robert F. O'Donnell (R) and R. Creigh Deeds (D)
Robert F. O'Donnell (R) and R. Creigh Deeds (D)

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Anita Kumar, Rosalind Helderman, Bob Holsworth
Washington Post Staff Writers and Founder - President of Virginia Tomorrrow
Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writers Anita Kumar and Rosalind Helderman and Bob Holsworth, founder and president of VirginiaTomorrow, a company that examines emerging trends in politics, society and business, were online Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Noon ET to discuss the Race to Richmond between gubernatorial candidates Creigh Deeds (D) and Robert McDonnell (R).

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Road Plans Differ in Details, Not Chances (Post, Oct. 7)

Holsworth was founding director of both the Center for Public Policy and the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University and received VCU's 'Outstanding Teacher Award' and the 'State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award.'

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Rosalind Helderman: Hello everyone! Thanks for sending in your questions today on the Virginia governor's race. Anita Kumar and I are joined today by Bob Holsworth, a former VCU professor who writes the Virginia Tomorrow blog. It's worth reading every day if you are interested in Virginia politics.

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Alexandria, Va.: I want to like Deeds but feel he is taking NoVA for granted because it generally skews highly democratic. Does he have any plans for flyers, ads, appearances in the area that would help him convey his stances on the issues or plans for Virginia? So far, he hasn't done that at all (at least as far as I have noticed). He really needs to step up his game and come out with some real details if he wants to do well here.

Rosalind Helderman: Deeds was in Northern Virginia yesterday, attending a forum at the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce in Leesburg. He's doing the Mark Plotkin show on Friday. He also has a variety of television ads up in the area and is sending mail home to voters. Having said that, certainly plenty of Northern Virginians have suggested he has not done enough to explain who he is in this region.

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Herndon, Va.: The Post claimed last week they were still deciding on an endorsement in the Virginia governor's race, and yet today's editorial describes Deeds's "courage and candor" and called McDonnell's funding alternatives as "phony-baloney." Where is the mystery here, and how many times in the last ten races has The Post endorsed a Republican for governor?

washingtonpost.com: Editorial: Taxes or Traffic (Post, Oct. 7)

Anita Kumar: The editorial is completely separate from the news side of the newspaper. Roz and I don't know when the editorial board will endorse, just as we didn't know when or who they would endorse in the June primary. I do know that McDonnell and Deeds are both having interviews with the editorial board. I do not know the answer to the question of how many Republicans the paper has endorsed but in 2006, the paper did endorse Republican Bob Ehrlich in Maryland.

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Purcellville, Va.: Did I hear Bob McDonnell correctly last night -- that he proposes tolls for anyone crossing the state borders? The tolls could fund highway construction, sure, but what about the gridlock at the borders that would ensue? This seems like proposing gridlock to end gridlock.

Bob Holsworth: It is clear that part of McDonnell's answer to obtaining transportation funding without a general tax increase will include tolls.

I have specifically heard that tolls will be proposed at the North Carolina border.

Now, Virginia would still have to get federal approval for this and, I believe, would have to guarantee that dollars would be spent for improvements in, for example, the "I-95 Corridor."

Whether this would result in "gridlock" is an open question. But I do believe that any solution that contains new transportation dollars will consider tolls very seriously.

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Takoma Park, Md.: I was very surprised to see a Bob McDonnell TV campaign ad in which people (in this case, women who assert that McDonnell supports women's rights) who speak as McDonnell supporters are identified as "deputy attorneys general" of Virginia. In Virginia, are government employees permitted to campaign in this way? Furthermore, I assume that these deputy attorneys general worked under McDonnell when he was attorney general. I find it troubling that state workers that McDonnell supervised are campaigning for him and that Virginia law permits it.

Anita Kumar: Hello Takoma Park. McDonnell is airing a TV ad with some of his former employees who still work for the Attorney General's Office. The employees, Attorney General Bill Mims and McDonnell's campaign have all said that the women filmed the ad at a private location during hours when they were not working. My understanding is they permitted to do appear in ads if it is on their own time and separate from the office.

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Arlington, Va.: Does Bob McDonnell's plan for transportation improvement add up? Specifically (1) if the Feds were to allow Virginia to share oil royalties how long would it take for oil revenues to reach Virginia? What amount would be expected? (2) How can selling a revenue generator of 25 percent on an investments value of $400M be considered good business in the case of the liquor stores? (3) How do you pay the interest on the bonds floated for transportation? (4) Where would the tolls be located and what is the expected revenue from the toll plan?

Rosalind Helderman: Our colleague Amy Gardner wrote a story that ran in this morning's paper on this very issue. The short answer is that both McDonnell and Deeds' transportation plans rely on Virginia making tough political choices that have been rejected in the past. And experts have raised questions about each of the points you mention in McDonnell's plans.

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Deeds's ad campaign: FWIW, I believe Deeds' campaign is making a mistake in solely focusing on McDonnell's thesis and the obvious hypocrisy found in his response to it. Yes, there is valid room for criticism there and it's probably earned Deeds some votes, but I don't think that will be enough.

I think he should go after McDonnell on one issue that McDonnell seems to think is a strength...his view on improving the state's economy. McDonnell, who supposedly never introduced any job-creation legislation when he served in the Assembly, is falling back on the old GOP stance of "lower taxes will solve everything." If I ran Deeds's campaign, I'd be comparing him to George Bush and Jim Gilmore on this.

Any sign that this will happen?

Bob Holsworth: I really like this question and believe that it gets to the heart of the campaign in the final four weeks.

Does Creigh Deeds develop what the lawyers would call an "affirmative case."

I think that there is one for the Democrats that would consist of:

1. Emphasizing the "bests" that Virginia has achieved - best managed state under the last three Democratic Governors (include Wilder), best place to raise a child, best state for business.

2. Stressing that this has been achieved by the willingness of Democrats to make "hard decisions" and not avoid and defer problems- cutting the budget judiciously and making the right investments.

3. Highlight Deeds' and the Democrats' historic commitment to inclusiveness.

Would this be enough- I'm not quite sure, given the national trends impacting the race.

But I think that both Jim Moran and Governor Kaine were correct this week- Deeds has to make an affirmative case if he is to have a real chance at winning.

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Arlington, Va.: I am torn by this upcoming election. For many years, I was a Democrat, largely for social reasons. But as I have gotten a little bit older and entered the workforce in a relatively lucrative profession (30-year-old lawyer)I have seen a shift in my views, especially where money/taxes/role of government is concerned. I was leaning towards McDonnell, but in recent weeks, especially in light of his infamous thesis, I am rethinking my decision. Is McDonnell really as socially dangerous as it seems, meaning will I be voting for someone who, while great for Virginia in some ways, can really turn our social progress backward?

Rosalind Helderman: We can tell you about both candidates records and what they have said about their own positions and what they would do if elected, but this is a question voters will have to decide for themselves.

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Richmond, Va.: Why is Deeds so opposed to taking some money from the General Fund to help improve our roads. There is plenty of money in that fund that does not go to education, funding earmarks like museums. Hasn't Deeds supported using General Funds for transportation in the past, like to build Route 58 or in 2007 when they dedicated some to rail? Why now oppose it?

Anita Kumar: Deeds has said that Virginia needs a long-term solution to the state's transportation problems and that the cost for road and transit improvements could be $1 billion. As a legislator, he has voted for state budgets where money went to various projects around the state -- earmarks as you call them -- such as museums. But he says he wants to find a source for much more money for transportation. In the past, he has voted for various gas tax increases for transportation. He also says that fixing transportation will spur economic development and growth in the state.

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Richmond, Va.: Bob -- is the election going to be Allen coming from behind and beating Sue Terry with Deeds as the dark horse Allen, or Gilmore V. Beyer with Deeds as the Beyer "Me too, No Wilder Endorsement" candidate? Is there a historical equivalent?

Bob Holsworth: At the moment, Democrats are telling me that it feels like some mix of both campaigns (on the wrong side)- In each one, the Democratic candidate failed to establish a clear, positive identity with the voters- and I think that Democrats are frustrated that deeds has not been able to turn his personal story and his own dedication to Virginia into a compelling campaign narrative.

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Richmond, Va.: You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Who are McDonnell and Deeds's close advisors -- not just campaign staffers, but the people they turn to for advice and counsel?

Rosalind Helderman: You can be sure both are getting a ton of advice from anyone and everyone. Deeds talks often to Gov. Tim Kaine, who is of course chair to the DNC. He is also particularly close to Mark Warner. And his campaign is getting daily input from the DNC and democratic governors association. Anita, you want to talk about McDonnell?

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Richmond, Va.: Would McDonnell's transportation plan take money away from education? He is running a TV ad directly saying it won't. Where does the money come from if not education?

Anita Kumar: McDonnell has said that he would take a small amount -- about 1.5 percent -- from the general fund. But he has not said what he would take money from. About 46 percent of the general fund is spent on education. Much of the rest goes to health and public safety. So it could come from any number of core services.

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Las Cruces, N.M.: Is it de facto "anti-women" to suggest that the breakdown in family cohesiveness is detrimental to society?

For instance, I recognize that many women are best served by getting a divorce due to domestic violence, etc. That doesn't' mean that on balance the nuclear family shouldn't be encouraged. Less poverty in families with two adults, etc.

By urging policies that tend to incentivize marriage was McDonnel's thesis really insulting to "working women"?

Rosalind Helderman: This is an interesting question. The thesis is a lengthy discourse on what a 34-year old McDonnell believed government could do to strengthen the traditional family. One of the trends he observed in society was that more and more women were working outside the home. He wrote that he believed that trend was detrimental to the family and society, along with the feminism that had encouraged it. Is that "anti-woman"? The Deeds campaign would tell you it definitely is. The McDonnell camp would say that it was an observation of a societal trend and does not mean he does not support women in the workplace. I'm curious in your opinion, Las Cruces?

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Winchester, Va.: All three of you have observed the candidates in much closer detail than most of us. What's your actual measure of Bob McDonnell? Has he truly moderated his views since leaving the legislature, or is his moderate image that's been on full display since the summer a sham? And if elected governor, which McDonnell will we see?

Bob Holsworth: Great Question.

Here's my take.

I don't think certain that McDonnell's principles and beliefs have changed very dramatically since leaving the General Assembly (I do believe that he has obviously changed his views on working women since writing the thesis).

What he is doing in this campaign is attempting to focus public attention on the issues that he maintains will be his priority as Governor- dedicating resources to transportation and helping Virginia's economy recover.

If elected, my sense is that he will try very hard to fulfill his campaign promises.

Yet I would not think that his social conservatism would go away- I think that he would likely have pro-family, pro-life policies in, for example, the health and human services area. At the same time, the national environment certainly would limit his capability to change, for instance, abortion policies.

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Chantilly, Va.: What do you all make of McDonnell's comment regarding Sheila Johnson's huge faux pas re: Deeds's speech? Surely he can't be that tone-deaf. His remarks gave no indication that he really knew what she did.

Rosalind Helderman: It seems clear that McDonnell will leave the apologizing to Ms. Johnson. He seems quite content to instead use the controversy to point out, once again, that Johnson--a longtime Democrat--believes that Deeds is weak on the economy.

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Reston, Va.: The Virginia governor race is seen nationally as a rather important election. Some are even calling it a referendum on the president's first few months in office.

If it is such an important race, why isn't the head of the DNC...I mean, our current governor...in any of Deeds's ads? Is he not endorsing the Democratic candidate?

Anita Kumar: Hello Reston. Governor Kaine is not in Deeds TV ads but he has done a radio ad for him. But Kaine has appeared with him on the campaign trail, including Labor Day weekend and then again this past weekend, and he is providing behind the scenes assistance and money. Former Governor and now U.S. Senator Warner is more popular than Kaine right now, actually more than any politician in the state, and so Deeds is having him appear in his ads. For more on the relationship between Deeds and Kaine, you read this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/22/AR2009082200862.html

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Rockville, Md.: Another month to go and I am so tired of Virginia ads and I do not even live there. Sigh. A pox on both lying sides.

Rosalind Helderman: Trust me--if the campaigns could find a way not to pay money to put advertising on your TV in Maryland, it would make them much happier. But we're all one big media market up here in DC, so those of you who live in suburban Maryland and DC will be putting up with this race with Virginians for another month. Certainly I understand your concerns about the tone of the ads. We've been trying to run fairly regular "ad watch" features truthsquading some of their claims, but it's gotten pretty nasty out there.

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Arlington, Va.: Deeds has run a terrible campaign. He better find some issues and tell us what he will do about them rather than "don't vote for scary Bob!" That said I am so totally sick of both their TV ads I just want them to go away already! Seriously I change the channel every time either one of them has an ad come on.

Anita Kumar: Thank you for your comment. In the past few days, we have seen several people talk about how Deeds needs to move beyond his attacks and sell himself. Governor Kaine made some of the comment yesterday and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran made them a couple days ago. To read Moran's comments, you can go here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics/2009/10/us_rep_jim_moran_says.html

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Arlington, Va.: Are there any key "wedge" issues where the candidates differ and voters are choosing according to these differences? Or does it seem to be that voters are voting on party affiliation and non-issues such as past statements in grad school?

Rosalind Helderman: This is a race with quite a number of issue contrasts. The two candidates' approaches to solving transportation are very different. McDonnell has been more supportive than Deeds of expanding the number of charter schools in Virginia. Deeds has more actively advocated raising teacher pay. In general, they have contrasting views about the role of government in society. They hold different views on social issues. Deeds wants to close Virginia's gun show loophole, McDonnell does not. And it goes on.

That said, plenty of people will vote largely on party affiliation because they find that their views generally align more with one party or the other and that helps guide them in choosing candidates.

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Arlington, Va.: Why aren't we getting more coverage of McDonnell's fundamentalist or evangelical religious beliefs?

Rosalind Helderman: I don't think it has been any secret in this campaign that McDonnell is a committed Catholic. The Post also has a lengthy profile of Bob McDonnell that will be running.

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Richmond, Va.: The focus has been on the top of the ticket. What is the latest on the other two statewide campaigns and the House of Delegate elections? Are Republicans poised to sweep all three statewide positions for the first time in a long time? And can Republicans increase their majority in the House?

Bob Holsworth: Polls right now are showing the GOP comfortably ahead in the downticket races.

Bolling has been using his financial advantage well and has been more visible on television than Wagner. I'm not sure that Wagner's attempt to define Bolling as a "no-show" has caught on. Wagner, it seems to me, also has to make the "affirmative case," move off the defensive and argue that Virginia has done better and is still doing better than the rest of the nation. Her first ad does this to some extent and she'll have to do a lot more.

Bolling, it seems to me, is always underestimated. He is a very smart campaigner and understood far earlier than anyone else how voter disgust with "spending" at the national level could play out in the Virginia race.

Cuccinelli is leading Shannon by a considerable margin, but this is right now my favorite race. They have important policy differences, they have different views on the role of the Attorney General and their first debate was a brawl.

Yet Shannon will need Deeds to close strongly if he is to have an opportunity to win.

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Princeton, N.J.: If I have to pay to enter Virginia, will I get a refund when I leave?

Rosalind Helderman: Only after all those Virginians who have paid tolls on the New Jersey turnpike get refunds too!

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Alexandria, Va.: Did McDonnell really drop the f-bomb on WTOP? and if so, was there an apology, excuse, or what?

Anita Kumar: McDonnell was answering a question about whether he could consider an increase in the state gas tax to help fund the transportation. McDonnell said no, and uttered the word in his response. It sounds like he accidently combined two words -- funding and mechanism. His actual quote was: "I'm going to find other ways to be able to fund transportation. I've outlined twelve f-ing funding mechanisms that are creative, that are entrepreneurial." McDonnell did not apologize but his spokesman said it was unintentional and that he does not use the word.

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Annandale, Va.: McDonnell keeps pointing to the women in his family as proof that his views on working women have changed over the years.

Isn't this more a reflection on his lack of leadership abilities? I mean, he published his worldview, and can't even get his family to toe the line.

Anita Kumar: Thank you for your comment. McDonnell has repeatedly said his views on women have changed. He offers his wife, daughters and several high-ranking former employees as proof that he supports women in the workplace. Voters can decide if they believe him or not.

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Arlington, Va.: Who would McDonnell sell the liquor stores to? And what happens to all of the revenue the stores generate now that the state will no longer be collecting? Sure, in the short run it means a big chunk of money upfront but what about when that runs out? Is this about his object to the state being in the liquor business?

Bob Holsworth: Another very good question.

I think that it's hard to make the case that selling liquor should be a core function of Virginia state government.

The issues surrounding privatization always center on how would it be done, what would happen to the "profit" the state currently accrues, and how would more "profit" for the state arise through privatization.

My guess is that McDonnell would offer "licenses" to sell liquor to both small and large retailers. And, for the state to make money, they would have to obtain a recurring license fee and additional tax revenues.

This would entail, I think, enabling retailers like Walmart, Walgreen's and Costco to participate in a big way.

The political opposition to ABC privatization s considerable.

Liberal "moralists" don't like it because of it's impact on the poor.

Faith based conservatives don't like it because of potential negative impact on the family.

Groups like MADD hate it because liquor advertising would be far more prominent.

And every group that fares well economically under the present system hates it.

I think that Virginia should have a serious dialogue about privatization- whether it can be shaped politically and economically to provide an addition $500 million a year in revenue to the state is obviously open to debate.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm not a big fan of tolls, but gridlock at the border is not an issue for drivers with the EZPass.

Have you been through the southern end of the NJ Turnpike lately? They collect tolls at highway speeds and have the traffic safely separated between EZPass drivers and cash payers.

Rosalind Helderman: Thank you for the perspective.

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Anita Kumar: Earlier Richmond, Va. asked this question: You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Who are McDonnell and Deeds's close advisors -- not just campaign staffers, but the people they turn to for advice and counsel? My colleague, Rosalind, answer for Deeds. And I would like to answer for McDonnell.

McDonnell also works with the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association. Jerry Kilgore, the 2005 GOP nominee for governor, and Tom Farrell, the head of Dominion power company who is a high school friend, help him raise money. He also receives advice and policy assistance from other like Richard Cullen and Eric Finkbeiner of McGuire Woods law firm.

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Lucketts, Va.: In Virginia, gay people are not covered in workplace discrimination laws. Should state employees who are gay be afraid of a McDonnell governorship?

Rosalind Helderman: Gov. Kaine's first executive order when he took office was to ban discrimination in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation. As attorney general, Bob McDonnell wrote an opinion arguing that Kaine's order overstepped his executive authority and that he needed input from the General Assembly on the issue. But McDonnell has said repeatedly that he does not believe that gay people should be discriminated against in the workplace.

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Alexandria, Va.: Voting for Deeds here -- for one reason -- owning a liquor store is a license to print money.

Where do I sign up?

Rosalind Helderman: Thanks for the input.

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Falls Church, Va.: Earlier you took a question about whether McDonnell has truly changed his views on certain issues. Would you similarly address whether you think Deeds has truly changed his views about gay rights?

Bob Holsworth: An excellent complementary question.

He says that has, at least to some extent.

In fact, he provided a very interesting response when he was about this, noting that political figures ought to be given the latitude to have their evolve and develop over times (a latitude McDonnell claims that he is not receiving from Deeds).

My sense is that Deeds' views have evolved in a way that is closer to the mainstream of the Virginia Democratic Party.

Yet I doubt that he would be a champion for changes in state law. Nor do I think that he would frame the gay marriage issue as a civil rights matter as Chuck Robb did in the Senate when he was one of 14 senators to vote against the defense of Marriage Act and stood on the floor of the chamber and told his colleague that someday they would regret their vote because gay marriage would be considered a fundamental civil right.

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St. Paul, Va.: In my part of the state transportation and economic recovery and being for coal jobs and against cap and trade ring true, this defines Bob McDonnell what defines Deeds? The guy still needs a message will he get it before election?

Anita Kumar: Hello St. Paul, Va. You are in good company today. Many other readers on today's chat are asking similar questions about Deeds's message. Deeds spent the primary and the general election talking about how investments in transportation and education will help spur the economy, but much of that message has been overshadowed by his attacks on McDonnell. In recent days, Gov. Tim Kaine and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran have commented that he needs to sell himself to Virginia voters in the final four weeks. We will see if he does that.

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Vienna, Va.: McDonnell's wife and daughters are not evidence that he is in favor of working mothers. Sure, women can work, until they have kids, at which point they need to stay at home. His wife didn't work outside the home when their children were living at home.

Rosalind Helderman: Thank you for your thoughts.

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Leesburg, Va.: In last week's discussion, I asked if The Post was planning on an article about McDonnell's relationship with Pat Robertson. The response was that this has been covered already. Would you please provide a link to this article? Thanks.

Rosalind Helderman: This certainly came up in the now well-known story in which the existence of McDonnell's 1989 master's thesis was first revealed. He wrote the paper while he was attending the law school founded by Pat Robertson.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Has anyone asked McDonnell whether or not he believes in evolution? Fundamentalists do not, but Catholics (including the Pope) generally do. Does he believe that public schools in the Commonwealth should teach, in science classes, "alternatives"?

Rosalind Helderman: I'm not sure I know his views on this topic but we can ask him.

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Richmond, Va.: Deeds says he supports raising taxes to pay for transportation but not education, health care, etc. But Mark Warner said he wouldn't raise taxes and then did with Deeds's help. How can we believe Deeds when he says he won't raise taxes for government programs when he has promised to increase spending for everything? And how can any Democrat candidate have credibility on the issue when the last two Dem Governors raised taxes after promising not to?

Rosalind Helderman: It's rare candidate who says on the campaign trail that they would raise taxes--it's one of the things that makes Deeds' statements that he would do so for transportation fairly unusual and interesting. Warner did a lot of cutting of state spending and coalition building before he proposed his tax increase, saying Virginia's finances would be wrecked without it. Those moves helped him build credibility and ultimately helped get the hike through the General Assembly.

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Rosalind Helderman: Everyone, I've enjoyed being part of this chat. Thank you so much for reading and for your interest in this campaign.

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Vienna, Va.: Bob Holsworth wrote, in response to a question about selling off the state-run liquor stores "to provide an addition $500 million a year in revenue to the state..."

Selling the liquor stores, would not produce $500 million a year; it would produce $500 million one time only. The state would also lose the current revenue it receives from liquor sales.

Bob Holsworth: McDonnell's argument is that the state would far exceed on a yearly basis the approximately $100 million that functions as "profit" right now. It is not, in his mind, a one time hit that then disappears.

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Bob Holsworth: Thanks everyone for the probing questions. As always, it's been great fun.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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