- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

Former Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said Wednesday that his party’s gubernatorial nominee, R. Creigh Deeds, is at risk of becoming the “me, too” candidate, and complimented GOP opponent Robert F. McDonnell on his efforts to reach out to Virginians who don’t traditionally vote Republican.

“I would have to say Bob seems to be very aggressive in going out and strongly seeking the support of everybody,” Mr. Wilder said.

The comments were made during an interview with The Washington Times in which Mr. Wilder, 78, the nation’s first elected black governor, said Mr. McDonnell has been able during the campaign for November’s election to set the agenda on several issues.

Mr. Wilder still has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

Mr. Deeds, a state senator, was put on the defensive most recently when Mr. McDonnell spoke out in support of a bill to provide restitution to a black man who spent 22 years in prison for a crime he was later cleared of by DNA tests.

The bill, to be introduced during a special session next month, would provide nearly a half-million dollars in financial compensation for Arthur Whitfield, who was wrongly convicted of two rapes.

Gov. Tim Kaine, who called the special session to address a procedural issue raised by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, originally said he did not want legislators to take up other bills during the one-day session. But his office said Wednesday he would support addressing the wrongful conviction case.

Mr. Deeds said he would also support the introduction of the bill, but he said it only after Mr. McDonnell had taken up the issue.

“Who called for that first?” asked Mr. Wilder, who noted that Mr. McDonnell has been ahead of his opponent in laying out a transportation policy, in pressing for the special session and in seeking help for Mr. Whitfield. “And Mr. Deeds said, ‘Me, too.’ ”

“Virginians look for leadership. Who is going to be there on what issue,” Mr. Wilder added. “Unfortunately, when that happens and the other candidate says, ‘I support that too,’ ” you don’t look like a strong leader. If you thought that, why didn’t you say it?”

An endorsement from the influential Mr. Wilder carries high value in any political contest in Virginia, especially when it comes to influencing black voters. Mr. Deeds, who has yet to solidify support within the black community, has scheduled a meeting next week with Mr. Wilder.

Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold said: “Creigh is looking forward to sitting down with Gov. Wilder. Creigh admires Gov. Wilder’s groundbreaking achievements throughout his career, but he recognizes that the governor is an independent leader and will make up his own mind.”

A belated endorsement is not unheard of from Mr. Wilder, in fact it is usually the norm. He said he likes his endorsement to mean something.

But when it comes to Mr. Deeds’ campaign, he may be playing a dangerous game. The Democrat has already lost the support of at least one influential black Virginian. Sheila Johnson, the billionaire co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, announced her support for Mr. McDonnell last week. Mrs. Johnson was one of the largest individual contributors to Mr. Kaine’s 2005 Democratic gubernatorial campaign

In the past, Mr. Wilder has endorsed Democrats but never publicly endorsed a Republican; he has turned his back on candidates he previously had favored.

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