- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va. | Gun control shot to the forefront of the fourth Democratic Virginia gubernatorial debate, on Wednesday less than a mile from the deadliest campus shooting in American history.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former national Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former House of Delegates Democratic Caucus leader Brian J. Moran all agreed on closing the loophole in state law that exempts gun shows from background checks on buyers.

They clashed for the second time in as many days in a restored theater in Blacksburg, a short walk to the scene of the worst mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, in April 2007. Mr. Moran said every gun buyer should have to face the same checks that federally licensed gun dealers must perform regardless of venue.

“Anyone who purchases a firearm should go through a background check. You can’t determine whether a person is a felon or suffers from a mental defect,” Mr. Moran said.

Mr. McAuliffe agreed, saying the private dealers who sell a wide array of guns - from antiques to assault-style weapons - at the bazaars should be required to query the past of purchasers.

Both Mr. Moran and Mr. McAuliffe are from the populous suburbs of Northern Virginia, where gun control sentiment runs strong.

Mr. Moran pointed to Mr. Deeds, the only candidate from rural Virginia, and noted that he voted early in April to override Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine’s veto of a bill to allow people with concealed-weapons permits to carry firearms into bars.

The candidates clashed for the second night in a row over support for a coal-fired power plant proposed for the Tidewater community of Surry.

In a venue near Virginia’s coal-mining western mountains, Mr. Deeds said the need for domestic energy is too pressing to write off coal and called for clean-coal research.

Like Mr. McAuliffe, he said he had not committed to support the 1.5-gigawatt plant in Surry but said more research needs to be done as the plant moves through the permitting process.

Mr. Moran dismissed them both, saying that there was plenty of research and that it was clear coal can’t be made clean.

“Pandering is not leadership,” Mr. Moran said. “You can’t be for clean energy and support a coal-fired power plant, which is what you have heard from my two opponents.”

As the debate progressed, hundreds listened to a live stream online, and hundreds of responses poured in to questioners from people using the social networking site Twitter.

It was the first time, at least in Virginia, that online partisan voices and activists who played prominent roles in recent Democratic triumphs have hosted a debate at this level.

Sponsors include the Huffington Post, Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times and political blogs Not Larry Sabato and Fire Dog Lake.

Online support was an afterthought for campaigns in Virginia until 2005. That year, Northern Virginia blogger Lowell Feld founded RaisingKaine, that, as its name implied, was an ally of Mr. Kaine’s successful campaign for governor.

Real respect didn’t come, however, until Mr. Feld and Not Larry Sabato’s Ben Tribbett and others launched an online movement to draft Republican-turned-Democrat Jim Webb for the 2006 U.S. Senate race, where he beat incumbent George Allen.

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