- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 1, 2009

GOOCHLAND, Va. | In a gubernatorial forum before farmers and foresters, Republican Robert F. McDonnell and Democrat R. Creigh Deeds worked mightily to reach out to rural Virginia.

On one point, however, Mr. McDonnell conceded Friday to Mr. Deeds:

“He’s operated on a pig. I can’t claim that,” the former state attorney general said of his opponent, who grew up on a farm in rural Bath County and said earlier in the forum he had performed medical procedures on barnyard animals.

Later, Mr. Deeds explained, “On a farm you have to perform certain surgeries on male animals.”

Mr. Deeds and Mr. McDonnell appeared before more than 200 farmers, foresters and members of the Future Farmers of America, clad in their signature snug dark-blue jackets, at a question-and-answer session at the Virginia Farm Bureau. Both took questions from the audience separately.

The candidates were in general agreement on major agricultural issues in Virginia. They both stressed the importance of farming and forestry, which claims an annual economic impact of $79 billion in Virginia. They said improving the state’s inadequate road system is critical, as are improvements to the Hampton Roads port system to get soybeans and Virginia apples and other commodities to Eastern Europe and Asia.

They also spoke on issues of eminent domain, the estate tax and farmland preservation.

Each, however, worked to connect with the audience.

“I’m not sure when again you’ll have an opportunity to elect a governor who not only says he understands rural values but lives your values every day,” said Mr. Deeds, a lawyer and former member of the General Assembly.

Not to be outdone, Mr. McDonnell said he had represented the farm community of Pungo when he served as a legislator from Virginia Beach and understood the difficulties of operating a farm, especially in a sour economy.

In remarks prepared for the forum, Mr. McDonnell pledged to be a governor “who recognizes we must save farms, do a better job marketing Virginia products to the world, and treat Virginia’s farming and forestry communities like the crucial part of Virginia’s economy and culture that you are.”

Robert Mills, a former Southside Virginia tobacco grower who now raises beef cattle, said he’s “not a big fan” of either candidate but wants to hear more from both before the November election.

“I do support having a candidate from rural Virginia who understands what living in rural Virginia is like,” Mr. Mills said.

After the forum, Morgan Slavin, 18, said it was important for both candidates to stake out their positions before her fellow Future Farmers of America. She grew up on a cattle farm in Augusta County and plans to attend Virginia Tech and study for a future in agriculture.

“To see both candidates express that agriculture is an important industry definitely made me more secure that our government is aware of that,” she said.

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