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Va. Gov. Candidates Debate In Closing Weeks

Va. Gov. Candidates Debate In Closing Weeks

By Kyle Trygstad - September 18, 2009

McLEAN, Va. -- In the second of four formal debates, the candidates for governor of Virginia argued yesterday over the same issues that the most recent gubernatorial races centered on -- jobs and transportation. While there was plenty of finger pointing at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate, one Democratic state legislator told RealClearPolitics that it was the most substantive debate he had seen in his many years in Virginia politics.

To open the event, Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee, said he was glad to finally be on home turf after the first debate was held in Creigh Deeds's home county. McDonnell spent most of his childhood in Northern Virginia, including here in Fairfax County, though Deeds later criticized him for claiming many parts of the state as his home.

"I'm not sure where you're from," Deeds said. "I've only got one place in the world to call home, that's Bath County."

Deeds often mentions his rural roots, especially when discussing his support for the state's coal mining industry and the second amendment. Deeds is known as a moderate Democrat, which closes some of the gaps between the candidates on issues that often separate the two parties.

During the debate the two agreed on occasion but spent most of the time highlighting their differences -- especially on transportation. McDonnell held up his 19-page transportation plan, then raised what he called Deeds's plan: one piece of blank paper.

In his opening remarks, McDonnell said Deeds was running a "very backward looking and negative" campaign. Since the Washington Post dug up a thesis McDonnell wrote 20 years ago that offered a number of socially conservative stances -- including that working women and feminists are detrimental to the family -- the Deeds campaign has repeatedly highlighted the work through TV ads and speeches. McDonnell has since disavowed many of those stances.

"Three weeks ago, nobody in the world had read that thesis, and now that's all my opponent wants to talk about," said McDonnell, who was asked about it by debate moderator David Gregory, host of NBC's "Meet the Press." McDonnell listed a number of women he's worked with, as well as his wife and daughters, who all work.

Deeds emphasized that the thesis was written when McDonnell was 34 years old -- the same age Deeds was when he was first elected to the General Assembly -- and said the thesis ended up serving as a roadmap for McDonnell's legislative career. "The thesis puts in context his entire career," said Deeds. "Bob as a legislator introduced 35 bills to restrict a woman's right to choose. As a legislator he voted against equal pay. As a legislator he voted against child care tax credits."

Forty-seven days remain until the general election, when Deeds will attempt to become the third straight Democratic governor of Virginia and continue a recent streak of statewide dominance for the party.

Deeds and McDonnell faced off in a statewide race four years ago for attorney general, which McDonnell won by only 323 votes out of more than 1.8 million ballots cast. In the polls so far this year, McDonnell has consistently held double-digit leads over Deeds, though polling since late August -- after the Post story was published -- has shown the race tightening.

A Clarus Research survey released Tuesday found McDonnell up 5 points -- the closest any polling firm had reported on the race since mid-July. McDonnell currently leads by 6.5 points in the RealClearPolitics Average.

Deeds faced similar disappointing early polling numbers in the Democratic primary. Despite a fundraising disadvantage, he ended up winning double the votes of both his opponents in that race, former state delegate Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

On Tuesday, the candidates turned in their campaign finance reports for the months of July and August which showed Deeds raising more during the two month fundraising period but McDonnell ending up with a $1.4 million cash-on-hand advantage. McDonnell has $5.8 million in the bank as of August 31 after raising $2.9 million in the previous two months; Deeds raised $3.5 million, leaving him with nearly $4.4 million on hand.

McDonnell and Deeds were both first elected to the House of Delegates in 1991. Deeds left the House for the state Senate in 2001, while McDonnell remained until his election as attorney general in 2005. He left the post earlier this year to focus on his gubernatorial bid. Deeds remains a state senator.

Both focused on job creation in their closing remarks, with McDonnell emphasizing his support in the business community compared with Deeds's substantial support from national and state labor organizations. Deeds preferred to compare their legislative records, noting that McDonnell "focused on a social agenda" while in the General Assembly, not job creation.

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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