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Race to Richmond: Deeds vs. McDonnell

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds, left, and Republican challenger Robert F. McDonnell talk before the start of a televised debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and AARP in Richmond.
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds, left, and Republican challenger Robert F. McDonnell talk before the start of a televised debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and AARP in Richmond. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)

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Amy Gardner and David Poole
Washington Post Staff Writer and Exec. Dir., Campaign Finance, Virginia Public Access Project
Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Amy Gardner and David Poole, executive director of Campaign Finance for the Virginia Public Access Project, were online Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Noon ET to discuss the Virginia governor's race between Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R).

This Story

Deeds and McDonnell Target McDonnell Image (Post, Oct. 14)

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Amy Gardner: Hello everyone! Welcome to today's live chat on all things political in Virginia. I'm Amy Gardner, and I cover Virginia politics for The Post. Joining me today is David Poole, the executive director of the vaunted Virginia Public Access Project, which makes all of us in the fourth estate look smart. VPAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign finance records for Virginia elected officials. I for one rely heavily on VPAP's work when covering Virginia elections. Visit David's excellent web site here: www.vpap.org.

Amy Gardner: P.S. Don't forget that you've got a Virginia campaign finance expert in David, so please take advantage and send him your best questions today related to money and elections!

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Charlottesville, Va.: Has the recession played much of a role in fundraising this year for Deeds and McDonnell? What about in the down-ticket races?

David Poole: Yes, the recession seems to be a factor. We know this anecdotally from talking to political fundraisers. People who are worth $25 million don't feel rich because, well, last year they were worth $50. We've seen this in the numbers, too. Here is a chart showing the trends in spending for the last few gubernatorial cycles:

Elections History (Virginia Public Access Project)



You can see things have been on a fast-growth pace. You can ignore this year, because the numbers are preliminary. But through August 31, the amount raised by McDonnell-Deeds was less than raised four years ago at this point by Kilgore-Kaine.

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Franconia, Va.: At this point, I see three outcomes: narrow McDonnell win, narrow Deeds win, McDonnell blowout. Do you agree?

And if so, how will any of these affect the House of Delegates makeup, or does it come out much the same in all scenarios?

Amy Gardner: I think the prospects for a Deeds win grow more challenging each day. But can there be a McDonnell blowout? Remember than even President Bush won Virginia by only eight points in 2004 against John Kerry. Huge caveat, though: presidential elections bring out voters, and this race seems not to have had that effect on the electorate (yet). So much depends on how well Deeds brings out his base of support, and our latest poll showed that he is not motivating those who turned out in droves last year for President Obama -- African-Americans and young people -- in numbers he needs to overcome McDonnell's lead. The stars are far from aligned right now; many things can happen in three weeks. As for your second question: If everything goes wrong for Deeds and right for McDonnell, certainly there would be consequences down the ballot. That means lieutenant governor, attorney general as well as House of Delegates races. Today, the sense in polling and conversations is that Republicans would pick up seats in the House -- some even in Northern Virginia. On Nov. 3? Time will tell.

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Deeds so far: Creigh Deeds has run a really awful campaign, imho. All I've seen in NVA is the old stuff on McDonnell's thesis and how dishonest he is. What does Deeds plan to actually do, and how? I fear McDonnell's conservative agenda, but until I know what Deeds has in mind, it's a hard sell. He's only got a couple of weeks left, or we'll be stuck with another Republican who will Rob Peter to pay Paul.

Amy Gardner: I have heard this from many observers.

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Fairfax County, Va.: How important is absentee-in-person voting or regular absentee voting this year? For example, if Deeds (hypothetically) surged forward in the polls, how many votes would already have been cast locally before that happened? How many absentee ballots are expected from military units overseas?

Do the various election boards report the numbers on total absentee votes (just the total number, not of course who they are for) as they go along, or do they keep even that a secret until Election Day?

David Poole: My memory is that some local boards do release a running total # of absentee ballots cast before Election Day. (Of course, the ballot are not counted until after the polls close.) I recall the SBE released statewide numbers last year, so I expect this information will be available again this year.

Amy Gardner: Right now, all we know is who has asked for an absentee ballot and who has voted in-person absentee. There's no guarantee that everyone who requests a ballot will turn it in by Election Day. Since voters in Virginia do not register by party, it's difficult to know how absentee votes are trending. My Democratic sources who have cross-referenced absentee voters with their lists of past Democratic primary voters, tell me that in Fairfax County, absentee ballots are favoring Democrats. That's not much a surprise, frankly, since Fairfax has trended pretty Democratic in recent years.

Incidentally, so far 10,000 applications have been requested in Fairfax County. Last year in the presidential elections, 100,000 absentee ballots were cast.

If Deeds surged forward in the polls, it would be because undecided or less-likely voters had decided to go for him, so that would be good news for Deeds and mean that more voters were likely to turn out.

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Northern Virginia: A lot of people I know are voting straight party line (either party) on the top three state races, then most of course are voting for their incumbent delegate regardless of party, because they know the incumbent That would make this race all about turnout.

One possible exception I've been wondering about is the Shannon-Cuccinelli race. Any chance Shannon could outperform the other Dems? Cuccinelli is not as good at hiding his hard-right roots as some other candidates, as with his recent anti-Obama sneer.

David Poole: You are correct to assume that the biggest factor in the Attorney General and Lt. Governor races is the performance of the candidates at the top of the ticket. Recent Virginia history has examples of one downticket candidate bucking the trends. Jerry Kilgore (AG) in 2001; Don Beyer (Lt. Gov) in 1993.

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Richmond, Va.: Senator Deeds has been widely attacked by Mr. McDonnell for his lack of a transportation plan. In fact, Deeds does have a plan, but it is less than 100 words. The plan makes no mention of any of Northern Virginia road woes. The words I-66, I-95 and Capital Beltway do not appear either explicitly or implicitly in Sen. Deeds's plan. If George Bush had generated a "plan" on Afghanistan that failed to mention "The Taliban" or "al Qaeda," the press would have been outraged and written about it for weeks.

The Post has spent substantial resources investigating McDonnell and his thesis (as you should on issues important to the readers). However, no issue is more important to the daily quality of life for most Northern Virginians than transportation situation that has persisted for 2 decades. When will The Post do a story on Deeds's lack of any actual published transportation ideas to improve Northern Virginia's congested roads?

(To be clear, I'm not asking about for a campaign add for Bob McDonnell on Deeds's plans to raise taxes -- I'm asking why there has been no coverage of the Democratic candidate having exactly zero published road proposals of any kind for Northern Virginia. My source is Deeds's plan as published on his campaign's Web site.)

Amy Gardner: Well, we have. Here's a lengthy analysis of both plans published in Sunday's paper. If you didn't see the print edition, you might take a look on page 2 of the Metro section. We even left white space to denote Deeds's lack of a plan.

Deeds: R. Creigh Deeds (Post, Oct. 11)



McDonnell: Robert F. McDonnell (Post, Oct. 11)



And here's a front-page story on both candidates' plans on transportation last week:

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

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Richmond, Va.: VPAP has been posting regular updates of donations from "527 Groups." What is a "527 Group" and what role have they been playing in this election?

David Poole: These are groups that have come into their own as an unforeseen consequence of McCain-Feingold. Corporations and individuals had been giving unlimited amounts of money to party committees, but when that avenue was closed off through legislation, the money needed to go somewhere. Along came 527s, which are groups that are not regulated by the Federal Elections Commission because they stop short of expressly advocating the election or defeat of federal candidates. As a result, the 527s -- which get their name from a section of the IRS code under which they are organized -- can accept money in unlimited amounts.

The 527s were a major player four years ago in the AG race. McDonnell got one of three dollars from the Republican State Leadership Committee. But 527s were not a player in last year's governor's race. This year, 527s accounted for 12 percent of all donations through August.

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Harrisonburg, Va.: Why isn't Deeds hitting back harder? He has the fire power.

Amy Gardner: There is lots of room for questions about Deeds's campaign this fall. Why is most of the communication from the campaign this week about a tour in Southwest Virginia that Deeds is not participating in? Why has he not been in Northern Virginia? But why he hasn't hit back harder is not at the top of my list of questions, frankly. Deeds has been running ad after ad criticizing McDonnell's record of conservative votes and, of course, criticizing his graduate school thesis from 1989, in which McDonnell criticized working women, feminists and homosexuals. As many fellow Democrats describe it, Deeds has spent too much time attacking McDonnell and not enough talking about who he is -- what kind of governor he hopes to be, what his plans are for transportation, schools, job creation. Part of it is money; Republicans are outspending Democrats two-to-one now, and the Deeds campaign has made a strategic decision to keep going with the contrast ads. You should be seeing, however, more ads this week on other topics such as roads and schools, which are currently on the air.

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Arlington, Va.: I don't know if Mr. Poole say today's "Dilbert", yet it does speak to something real. At what point does "access" turn into "undue influence"? I know there is no easy answer to this, yet I would like to know what you believe some general principles are as to when large contributors gain too much input?

David Poole: I used to be a big Dilbert fan, but lost my interest after I stopped working in a cubicle.

This is a tough question, one that is above my pay grade.

The argument in Virginia has been that limits, such as those in federal elections, do not work because money always will seem to find a way into the system. I don't think anyone would argue that the 2002 McCain-Feingold legislation has stemmed the flow of money into politics.

It may be interesting to amount of out-of-state money in this year's elections (both statewide and local) will produce some calls for study or reform during the 2010 General Assembly.

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Washington, D.C.: Why has Deeds gone back to negative campaigning again and again? The attack on the 2-plus decade-old thesis had not moved independent voters toward him a bit. It may help the liberal base, but what about the middle?

Amy Gardner: I think there was probably some value to the Deeds campaign's decision to highlight the thesis after The Washington Post published an article about it at the end of August. Polls in September showed that McDonnell's lead had narrowed significantly, particularly among women, following the Deeds thesis media blitz. In focus groups especially, the effect of the thesis on women's views of McDonnell was profound (and negative). However, it's possible that Deeds put too many of his eggs in this basket? It became pretty clear to many observers that Deeds needed to spend some time away from the thesis and talking more about his own agenda to govern. He has not done that as much as some Democrats had hoped, and newer polls seem to reflect that with widespread views that Deeds is too negative and widespread sentiment that McDonnell has a better message on virtually every major issue of the day -- transportation, the economy, even education, which is typically a strong suit for Democrats.

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The Pain The Pain!: Heaven help us who receive media coverage in the DMV zone (DC/MD/VA). We are held hostage by three major races, either DC, MD or VA elections ads and we live in only one but have to endure all the media blitzes! Make it end! Make it stop!

Amy Gardner: I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better. All six statewide campaigns in Virginia this year -- two each for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general -- have been saving their pennies to run as many TV ads as they can in the final weeks. And the brass ring is the Washington media market. As you point out, it's an inefficient way to reach Virginia voters because so many viewers live in DC and Maryland. But it reaches more Virginia voters than any other TV market in Virginia, making it essential in any good campaign media strategy. Hang in there, and get out your TiVo!

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Richmond, Va.: Who's getting more money (dollar amount in total donations) from outside Virginia? Deeds or McDonnell?

David Poole: These numbers are dated and will be supplanted by the campaign finance reports for September that are due tomorrow.

But these are the numbers through from 1/1/2006 through 8/31/2009:

Virginia: Deeds - 68%; McDonnell - 57%

DC/Maryland: Deeds - 30%; McDonnell - 30%

Other states: Deeds - 2%; McDonnell - 13%

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Franconia, Va.: "My Democratic sources who have cross-referenced absentee voters with their lists of past Democratic primary voters, tell me that in Fairfax County, absentee ballots are favoring Democrats." Wonder if they have any estimate on how many Democratic primary voters continue to vote Democratic in the fall. I voted for Deeds in the primary, but he has disappointed me so much I'll be voting for McDonell come election day. I'm a true Virginia "purple," I guess.

Amy Gardner: This is a very good point, and could very much affect the outcome Nov. 3. I've seen many a yard with a McDonnell sign alongside a sign for a Democratic House candidate, such as Margi Vanderhye in McLean or Kaye Kory in the Lake Barcroft area.

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Fairfax, Va.: DP: "These are groups that have come into their own as an unforeseen consequence of McCain-Feingold."

It was widely foreseen that McCain-Feingold would push campaign spending into more shadowy, less-regulated channels. The idea that McCain-Feingold would not stop the flow of money but rather would just redirect it was one of the major arguments made by the bill's opponents.

David Poole: Your point is well taken.

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Ashburn, Va.: Here is a comment: The enthusiasm for Bob McDonnell is substantial and this seems to be the measure of any political campaign. Last Monday night (the 5th), the local Loudoun County coordinator called me and others to appear at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce event in Landsdowne. He and his crew arrived at 5:00 a.m. to set up hundreds of road signs leading to the venue (all removed at the end of event). About 35 McDonnell supporters showed up at 7:00 a.m. ready to hold up signs of support. There was not one single sign waving Deeds supporter. Anyway, Mr. Deeds showed up and with TV cameras rolling had to walk by our "gauntlet" of sign holders. This being Virginia, we were all very polite and mutually wished each other "good morning.". The three staff members accompanying Mr. Deeds looked positively stricken. Later, McDonnell showed up and with cameras rolling greeted each of us sign waving supporters. Consider this: I am 60 years old and out waving political signs. We really need to take this country back from the crowd in Washington that swept in last fall and this is a great start.

Amy Gardner: We've seen and heard of many stories such as this one. Republicans do seem more energized this year; the party out of power often is. And this year, anger and concern about the economy and federal initiatives on health care, emissions limits and other topics are fueling Republican electoral efforts in Virginia also.

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Richmond, Va.: When a politician gets into hot water and others in his/her party come to that official's defense, many people assume the defense if for partisan reasons only. In short, we say that once two people are associated, they act in the interests of that association.

By analogy, The Washington Post endorsed Creigh Deeds, and that endorsement is largely credited with Deeds's primary victory. How does the Washington Post, or the many other news organizations in similar situations each election year, claim to provide un-biased coverage for an election when the management of the company has already stated a preference for one candidate?

Amy Gardner: Thank you for the question. A couple of points of clarification: First, the endorsement does not reflect the views of the "management" of The Washington Post. It reflects the views of our editorial board, which is independent and led by Fred Hiatt, the newspaper's editorial page editor. And second, there is absolutely NO coordination between the editorial page and our newsroom, which is where I work and which is responsible for the news content in our pages and on our web page. I and my colleagues covering the race (primarily Anita Kumar, Roz Helderman and Sandhya Somashekhar) literally found out about our paper's endorsement of Deeds when you did -- when it was published in our paper. On the news side, our job has been to cover both campaigns for governor with equality and fairness. Certainly the headlines this fall have been dominated by talk of Bob McDonnell's thesis, but it's hard to argue that we have not been tough on Democrat Creigh Deeds, for example his lack of a transportation plan or his performance at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

Here is a story on transportation: Road Plans Differ in Details, Not Chances (Post, Oct. 7)



And here is our story on the chamber debate: Thrust and Parry Over Va.'s Future (Post, Sept. 18)



Lastly, here And here is a link to the membership of our Editorial Board: Members of Post Editorial Board

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Centreville, Va.: David, Virginia's ethics laws are built upon the principle of full disclosure while not prohibiting any sort of contributions. In your opinion, is there an area of the law that needs to be strengthened to ensure full disclosure in the area of campaign finance and other related ethics laws? What can Virginia due to ensure that the system in place provides proper accountability on candidates, officeholders, lobbyists, and state employees?

David Poole: Just to make clear, VPAP is not in the business of advocating for "tougher" laws. Our role is simply to make sure the public has access to the information that is disclosed. All we ask is the information make sense
.
That said, we've seen a trend in recent years where candidates and committees (in certain circumstances) are required to provide more immediate disclosure. In some cases with in 24 hours of receipt of certain donations. As people get used to receiving information in a steady stream, I wonder if the General Assembly might rethink how most of campaign finance information is currently disclosed -- in periodic reports that have major lag time (more than two weeks) between the end of a filing period and when the information is disclosed
.

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Fairfax County, Va.: I was interested that the peculiar anti-Deeds (or shall I say pro-MacAuliffe) article in the New York Times yesterday attracted such a slew of Deeds defenders in the comments -- and also that Robert McCartney, in his Tuesday chat for the Post, initially had to beg for some pro-McDonnell folks to write in, since he was getting so many comments friendly to Deeds.

Do you think the sleeping giant of the Virginia Democratic electorate is finally waking up? Perhaps due to Monday's debate, Dems are feeling a little more energized to me.

washingtonpost.com: Second Thoughts in Battle for Virginia (The New York Times, Oct. 13)

Amy Gardner: This is an interesting question. Certainly Deeds would love for concern over a Democratic defeat to motivate voters in the final three weeks. I'm not so sure I'm seeing those signs, however. The pro-Deeds bent of those who chatted with Bob McCartney is probably more a reflection of the fact that Republicans perceive McCartney and the Washington Post in general as biased toward Democrats. In other words, I wouldn't take that as a measure of the overall electorate. As for Adam Nagourney's piece in the NYT: Certainly there is buyer's remorse among Democratic activists about Deeds. But remember: hardcore activists were not prone to supports Deeds in the first place. He was the most conservative of the three Dems running in the primary (Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran being the others).

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Alexandria, Va.: When is the Washington Post's endorsement due, and could it have a major impact as it did in the primary?

Amy Gardner: I have no idea when the endorsement will come, or if it even will. I found out about the endorsement in the spring when you did -- when it was published in our newspaper. If there is to be an endorsement, I would think it would be soon. As for its impact: There is a broad perception now that the Post's endorsement of Deeds in the spring helped propel him to victory in the Democratic primary. Whether true or not, it's certainly fair to speculate that any endorsement would have a much smaller impact in the general election, when many more independents and conservatives (and voters from outside Northern Virginia) are casting their ballots. Hard for me to say this, but The Washington Post is not the North Star for everyone.

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Midlothian, Va.: I spent this past Saturday at the Fairfax Fall Festival, a very large event. McDonnell workers were everywhere, pressing stickers onto anyone who would take them. The Deeds people were hidden on a side street and only gave me a sticker after I asked for one. If Deeds can't step it up in Fairfax, which ought to be his base, he can't do it anywhere. I'm subscribed to Deeds' Twitter feed which is updated a lousy one time each day and never any info about where to see him. I'd rather die than vote for Caveman Bob, but I'm extremely disappointed in Deeds's lackluster campaign. It's almost as though he wants McDonnell to win.

Amy Gardner: A common observation.

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Fairfax, Va.: Okay, re finance: When will we know how much Deeds and McConnell (and everybody down ticket) raised in the last reporting period? Not til October 15? Later?

Have there been any surprises in total money raised by any of the delegate candidates so far, either high or low?

David Poole: The next reporting period is tomorrow, October 15. The information disclosed will cover activity during month of September
.
There will be two more reporting deadlines to keep in mind
:
October 26: This is the last full look at money raised/spent before Election Day. It will cover activity between Oct 1-21
.
October 22: Candidates must report certain "large" contributions received on or after this date by 5 p.m. the next day. The threshold for is $500 for candidates for local office; $1,000 for House candidates; and $5,000 for statewide candidates
.
One surprise so far has been the role of money donated by 527 groups. The Republican State Legislative Committee given nearly $250,000 to Chris Stolle, who is challenging Democrat Del. Joe Bouchard in Virginia Beach
.
Here is look at RSLC giving
:
Republican State Leadership Committee (Virginia Public Access Project)

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Gilberts Corner, Va.: Do you foresee President Obama campaigning any further for Deeds? And what does the poll data say of Deeds appearing in person together with Obama -- net positive or negative?

Amy Gardner: This is a very current topic of discussion in my little political aquarium. Take a look at my colleague Roz Helderman's take on Obama's visit to Northern Virginia today -- but not with Deed
s
: DNC Facebook Ad Links McDonnell, Regent Policy (Virginia Politics, Oct. 14)



Deeds has said he is confident that Obama will come back. Certainly it is striking that he has not come back yet. As for whether it would help: Obama remains immensely popular in Virginia, particularly among African-American and young voters -- two groups where Deeds is struggling. It could only energize voters for Deeds if Obama decided to swing through African-American-rich communities in Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia. If instead all we see is an election-eve rally in Alexandria, the positive effects for Deeds are less clear.

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Arlington, Va.: Clearly the campaigns must have a lot of money even in challenging times. They have saturated TV with their stupid ads for weeks now. That can't be cheap. Do we know how much they are wasting...er, spending?

David Poole: It's hard to get an up-to-minute total for media spending. To do this, someone has to check with all the TV stations, which are required to disclose the amount spent on political ads. Unfortunately, there is no one doing this in a systematic way across Virgini
a
. The best number we have right now is $8.9 million. That was through August 31. You can see details her
e
: Top Vendors (Virginia Politics, Oct. 14)



We'll know more tomorrow, when candidates release spending through September 3
0
. These numbers do not include spending by third-party groups.

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Fairfax, Va.: I am one of the people who will cast my vote for the Democratic party, with Deeds as the name on the ticket. I wish I could be more excited by him but his only real campaign efforts seem to be "Here's why you should hate McDonnell..." I had hoped that Obama's win would have shown Democrats that we need to be about more than just fear-the-other-guy politics. I suspect that Deeds lack of a real message will be his downfall.

Amy Gardner: This opinion could very well be Deeds's downfall. It just depends on how prevalent this point of view is amongst independent and even Democratic voters. If too many in those groups stay home, Nov. 3 will be a tough day for Deeds.

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Arlington, Va.: To come to the defense of The Post as non-partisan in its news columns, the recent top play for a poll showing McDonnell up by nine points has done a lot to drive the discussion to how much Deeds will lose by. Regardless of who The Post endorses, that story could have been the beginning of end for Deeds's candidacy.

Amy Gardner: Thank you for your perspective.

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Springfield, Va.: Richmond is right. The Post's coverage of the race so far has largely mirrored the Deeds campaign strategy -- talk bad about McDonnell and offer nothing as an alternative. Like Deeds, The Post has been hearing about their coverage slant for weeks. And like Deeds, they are largely ignoring the obvious and maintaining the status quo.

Amy Gardner: And thank you for your perspective, too.

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Richmond, Va.: Do you think that Virginia's "no-limit"-style of campaign finance laws work, or is simple disclosure not enough to regulate the influence of money in politics?

David Poole: This is a good question. Virginia's system is based on the assumption that voters are paying attention and will hold candidates accountable. The flip side is that candidates -- knowing the public is watching -- will police themselve
s
. Is disclosure enough? I suppose the answer depends on if citizens are engage
d
. Someone once said that the best idea for campaign finance reform would be to everyone folks to spend 30 minutes a day reading a newspape
r
.

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Suffolk, Va.: Is VPAP on Twitter? Up to the minute campaign finance updates would be great.

David Poole: Yes, VPAP is tweeting. Follow us
a
t Twitter: VPAP Updates

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Stone Ridge, Va.: Do you think Moran or MacAuliffe would be faring better against McDonnell at this point?

Amy Gardner: This is the topic of endless speculation among Virginia Democrats these days. Both McAuliffe and Moran would have faced their own challenges. Moran ran a primary campaign to the left of both the others. As the national political environment has worsened for Democrats, he would have had a lot to answer for regarding Obama's national agenda on health care, cap and trade, card check and so on. McAuliffe would have faced a different set of challenges. A significant fundraiser for Democrats and business associate of McAuliffe's, Hassan Nemazee, was charged over the summer with operating a Ponzi scheme. McAuliffe has made millions in land deals and other business ventures that involved political relationships. We would have seen a lot of TV advertisements about those deals and relationship
s.

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Anonymous: What do you expect voters will see in regards to money from 527 committees in these last weeks leading up to the election? Specifically, how do you think the race in N.J. will affect giving by these national committees in Virginia?

David Poole: To be honest, I don't think anyone knows what to expect. This the first gubernatorial race where money from the "527 groups" is a factor. Through August, 527s accounted for 12% of all giving, compared to less than 1% four years ago. These groups have ability to write seven-figure checks. Definite game-changers. (In fact, in one House race in Virginia Beach a 527 gave a GOP challenger nearly $250,000. That's unprecedente
d
) Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states with gubernatorial races this year, so partisan groups from both sides are trying to make a statement in where the national political trends are headed.

_______________________

Richmond, Va.: What do you think voters should be looking for in the campaign finance reports both candidates will file tomorrow? How important is a cash-on-hand advantage at this point in the race?

David Poole: Good question. Here are three ways to look at the report
s
: One: Voters who care about particular issues can look to see if donors favoring/opposing their positions are giving more to one side or another. Here are links to donations by industr
y
: Deeds: Contributions by Industry reported by Deeds Committees (Virginia Public Access Project)



McDonnell: Contributions by Industry reported by McDonnell Committees (Virginia Public Access Project)



Two: Voters could see if their neighbors are giving. I know there are people in my neighborhood whose opinions I value. VPAP provides a zip-code look up for each of the gubernatorial candidate
s
: Deeds: Donations by ZIP Code Reported by Deeds Committees (Virginia Public Access Project)



McDonnell: Robert F. McDonnell: Donations by ZIP Code Reported by McDonnell Committees




Third: If you're looking for horse-race, you can see which candidate raised the most money in September. This might indicate momentum. But it's also important to see where the money is coming from. Are candidates getting money from a broad range of donors or just relying on a few big huge groups or individual
s
? Cash on hand is important, but that can change overnight with the stroke of a pen at a PAC or union headquarters in Washington.

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Three thoughts on the race: 1) The biggest thing missing from Creigh Deeds's campaign? Creigh Deeds.

2) Bob McDonnell has done a great job of keeping on his "I'm just an average normal friendly guy" mask while hiding his hard right, Christian Coalition beliefs. If he keeps it on for a few more days, he wins.

3) Some questions that might cause the mask to come off that I haven't seen answered: If the legislature passed a bill allowing gay marriage, would McDonnell sign it?

If the legislature passed a bill creating covenant marriage as a legal category, would he sign it?

If the state failed to meet revenue estimates in his administration (which it will, by the way) will he commit first to cutting programs (and state jobs) or raising taxes? At what point would he agree to raising taxes to protect state programs and the citizens who rely upon them?

Amy Gardner: There is certainly an argument to be made that Deeds is not as visible, particularly in Northern Virginia, as he should be in these final week
s
. McDonnell has said he would not sign a tax increase if elected. He has also not backed away from his view that marriage is between a man and a woman. Not sure the legislature could even pass that bill given the constitutional amendment approved in 2006 that bans marriage except between a man and woman.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Sheila Johnson was not just supporting Bob McDonnell yesterday. According to your reporting, she was also cheerfully supporting Barbara Comstock, the right-wing Republican challenger to incumbent Margi Vanderhye. If she's in favor of Republican candidates across the board, why do people still call her a Democrat?

After all, we don't register by party in Virginia, so you are only a Democrat or Republican based on who you say you support or who you vote for. I think she's just a straight Republican now. In which case, not such a big deal.

washingtonpost.com: Deeds and McDonnell Target McDonnell Image (Post, Oct. 14)

David Poole: You are correct, there is no registration by political party in Virginia. Until this election, Sheila Johnson has been identified as a major political donor to Democratic candidates in Virginia. But Ms. Johnson has given money to GOP candidates in the past. You can see her complete donor history here: Sheila C. Johnson: Campaign Contribution(s) Totaling $684,478 (Virginia Public Access Project)



Please note: This information is current through August 31 of this year. Tomorrow, candidates will release their donor lists for September. It will be interesting to see if Ms. Johnson donated money to McDonnell or Comstock. Stay tuned...

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: Your example of Deeds spending so much money arguing against McDonnell's thesis of 20 years ago shows perfectly why he's in trouble. If that's the best he can do, it shows Deeds has no faith in his own current platform. Wasting that much time on a two-decades-old academic paper seems foolish. Especially when coupled with Deed's own rejoinder to a female journalist, saying "I think I've explained myself enough, young lady." Not exactly the way to win women's votes there, fella.

Amy Gardner: Thank you.

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Centreville, Va.: VPAP's been a great resource this year, both now and during the primaries. Is there anything like this in other states?

David Poole: Glad you find VPAP's nonpartisan listing of campaign finance information usefu
l
. VPAP is unique in that it is not an advocacy group. It does not try to interpret or spin the information. It's singular mission is to empower people to make informed choices.

_______________________

Midlothian, Va.: This race has gotten more national attention than other Virginia gubernatorial races in recent memory. Have you seen this reflected in where candidates have been raising money? Has more national money been flowing into Virginia this year than in 2005 and 2001? Are both national Democrats and Republicans giving, or has one side been contributing more than the other?

David Poole: Good question. Yes, we're seeing more out-of-state money flowing into this race so far compared to past years. The two parties are in an arms-race to outspend each other. Both sides have made claims to spend north of $5 million. We've also seen the rise in importance of money from so-called 527 groups. These are groups that are not regulated by the Federal Elections Commission and can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals. Through August, donations from 527 groups accounted for 12 percent of total money raised -- compared to less than 1 percent at the some point four years ago.

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McDonnell and taxes: I asked this question last week and got a partial response, but since you're not actually working on the campaign staffs, I understand.

I'm really surprised Deeds has not attacked McDonnell for his "just lower taxes" platform the economy. The nation got a healthy dose of how that worked under George W. Bush and the commonwealth got a taste of it under Jim Gilmore. I think comparing McDonnell to Bush and Gilmore would be very effective.

I thought Deeds made a decent effort at bouncing back from his waffling on taxes with the op-ed in the Post but he should have kept going. Be honest: if we don't have enough revenue in the state to fix things and provide citizens with necessary services, we'll raise taxes.

I predict someone in the future will finally run a campaign by giving an honest answer on taxes and they'll win. And a lot of other politicians will ask their consultants, "Why didn't we do that?"

Amy Gardner: I'm not so sure I agree with this. People do not like to vote for taxes. Remember that Mark Warner said he wouldn't raise taxes when he ran for governor in 2001. And his efforts to get a referendum passed in 2002 for transportation failed at the polls. Warner changed his mind about directly raising taxes, of course -- by pushing through a major tax increase in 2004 for education and other core services -- and most Virginians were OK with it after the fact. But that was partly because circumstances had changed and there was a lot of evidence for Warner to make his case to the people that it was necessary. Could he have made that case in an election or referendum? I'm not so sure.

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Amy Gardner: OK, everyone, it's time to wrap up. Thank you all for a lot of really great questions, especially all those campaign finance inquiries from Richmond! And a special thanks to our guest, David Poole, my favorite campaign finance expert. See you all next week.

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