- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Republican candidate Mark L. Earley took the first step to trying to return normalcy to the Virginia governor's race yesterday, telling the fall meeting of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association that last week's terrorist attacks underscore how important public safety is as an issue.
"Education is important. Transportation is important. Jobs are important. But if we are to fulfill our responsibilities after September 11, we need to remind ourselves and our nation that more now than ever, public safety is the most important and primary responsibility at every level of government," Mr. Earley told the group gathered in Virginia Beach.
For his part, Democratic candidate Mark R. Warner, who is scheduled to address the sheriffs today, has avoided much politicking in his public appearances.
"What I've seen this week is that we are no longer Virginians or New Yorkers or Marylanders, we're no longer Democrats or Republicans, we're no longer black or white or young or old, but the affirmation that we are all Americans first and foremost above everything else. And that's something that has come resoundingly through each and every day. It's also going to be something that we'll always remember," Mr. Warner told a crowd of supporters in Goochland County on Saturday.
Within and outside the campaigns, observers say the only certainty in the campaign now is that nobody knows how it will be affected by last week's events.
For now, wall-to-wall attention on the attacks has pushed the governor's race off television, out of the newspapers and out of many voters' minds. Both campaigns pulled their television ads, and they and the candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general canceled events last week.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also canceled its gubernatorial debate, scheduled for yesterday.
Over the weekend, the candidates began to ease back onto the campaign trail — but all of the campaigns are treading lightly, afraid of being the first to say something that comes across as crass.
"This might be a case of who steps on the land mine first. Who puts his foot in his mouth first. Who makes a gratuitous statement. Who goes negative first," said Larry Harris of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which is currently out in the field surveying the race.
Some folks say the race dynamics haven't changed much, other than shortening the campaign season.
"I don't see people who were supporting one candidate or another are going to wipe out their voting preferences," said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at Catholic University. "People have their preferences, and I think people's preferences right now are frozen."
That aids Mr. Warner, who polls showed with a substantial lead over Mr. Earley. Mr. Warner could also be aided by having had several months of television ads to introduce himself to voters, while Mr. Earley stayed on the sidelines.
Others say public safety now overshadows the other issues in the race, and that could leave Mr. Earley in a good position, given his background as attorney general and as a state senator for 10 years.
Some argue that Mr. Earley can't help but be aided by the showing of national Republicans like the president, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, and Sens. John W. Warner and George F. Allen. He might also be helped if Mr. Warner's attacks on Mr. Gilmore's record over the last year are blunted.
One blow to Mr. Earley is that Vice President Richard B. Cheney and President Bush were scheduled to attend big-dollar fund-raisers for him last week and this week, and both were canceled.
It's unlikely those can be rescheduled if the terrorist situation isn't settled before the election.

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