Wilder on Deeds: That’s not ‘leadership’

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Spurning pleas from the president and the leader of his party, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder refused to endorse Democrat R. Creigh Deeds for Virginia governor, taking issue with the candidate’s willingness to raise taxes in a weak economy.

“That doesn’t show leadership and responsibility to me,” Mr. Wilder told The Washington Times on Thursday after he announced that he would not endorse either Mr. Deeds or Republican candidate Robert F. McDonnell.

Mr. Wilder objected to statements by Mr. Deeds indicating that he would not rule out new taxes if they were part of a bipartisan bill that contained a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation.

“We are in the toughest economic times that we’ve had. I think the most driving thing to do now is to be a part of fiscal sanity and restoring accountability,” Mr. Wilder said in a telephone interview.

“The first thing you do when that situation occurs is to get a handle on spending and to control what you are doing. It is not going out and advocating that the first thing you are going to do is see if you can spend some more money. That doesn’t make it a difficult decision for me to say I can’t embrace this.”

Mr. Wilder also took issue with Mr. Deeds’ stance on guns, specifically his promise to work to repeal Mr. Wilder’s signature one-gun-a-month law that prohibits citizens from purchasing more than one handgun at a time.

In his announcement sent to news outlets and posted on the political Web site Virginia Tomorrow, Mr. Wilder said he would leave it to the voters to make up their own minds as to who the best candidate would be.

“This in no [way] is intended to detract from Mr. Deeds in terms of character or commitment to the task of being governor. I find that he, as well as Mr. McDonnell, are fine and honorable men and well suited to that task. The question before me is whether I support the Democratic candidate’s position in addressing these issues. I have not thus far in the progress of the campaign, and as aforesaid refrain from so doing,” the statement said.

Mr. Wilder told The Times that he sat down on Monday with Mr. Deeds for their first substantive discussion of the issues.

In recent weeks, Mr. Wilder had been courted by both candidates and received telephone calls from President Obama and Gov. Tim Kaine, who also heads the Democratic National Committee, requesting that he back his fellow Democrat.

Mr. Wilder said he sent e-mails to the White House, the governor’s office and both candidates informing them of his decision.

“The requests, made of me, have been to endorse Mr. Deeds, the Democratic candidate, for governor. I refrain from doing so and will leave that choice to the voters,” his statement said.

Deeds campaign spokesman Jared Leopold dispatched his own statement immediately after the announcement.

“We respect Gov. Wilder’s decision,” he said. “While Creigh and he may not agree on every issue, they share a fundamental commitment to keeping Virginia the best managed state in the nation, as Gov. Wilder first made it in 1992. As governor, Creigh intends to seek Gov. Wilder’s counsel often, and looks forward to working with him.”

Mark J. Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University, said earlier this week that if Mr. Wilder refused to endorse the Democrat it would be a boon for the Republican candidate, who had been actively seeking the former governor’s support.

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