Monday, February 4, 2008

The presumed Democratic contenders for Virginia governor in 2009 hope to do something that hasn’t been done in nearly 60 years: jump directly from the Statehouse to the governor’s mansion.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and Delegate Brian J. Moran have lengthy voting records for Virginians to examine, unlike Gov. Tim Kaine and former Gov. Mark R. Warner. In 2001, Mr. Warner left the private sector as an Nextel executive to run for governor.

“Mark Warner had the ultimate political luxury — no political record,” said J. Martin Tucker, spokesman for Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican who also plans to run for governor.

Before Mr. Kaine became governor in 2005, he served in the largely ceremonial office of lieutenant governor, casting only four votes in four years in tie-breaking situations, according to his representatives.

Mr. Deeds, Bath Democrat, who has announced his intention to run for governor, has spent 17 years in the General Assembly. Mr. Moran, who has not declared his candidacy but indicated he will likely run, has spent 12 years in the legislature.

“It is almost a disincentive to have a lot of policy experience on the state level in running for governor,” said Mark Rozell, political science professor at George Mason University. “Voters see a recorded vote as a real affirmative commitment to an issue. It is really tangible in the way a campaign position paper or speech is not.” Both opposed the constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage,” which Virginia voters in 2006 passed 57 percent to 42 percent, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Republicans point to 1998, when Mr. Deeds, who was then in the House, opposed legislation to restrict prisoner lawsuits.

There is already opposition research floating around on Mr. Moran. In one instance, he is called the “Law-Breaking Caucus chair” because of votes he has made on illegal immigration, including his opposition to a bill that would authorize the governor to enter into an agreement with federal authorities to allow state police to enforce civil immigration laws.

Asked about the effect of his record on a possible bid, Mr. Moran answered, “It’s a record that I am proud of, and it’s a record that the majority of Virginians agree with.”

The situation could help Mr. McDonnell and other potential Republican candidates, including Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, whose elected positions will have allowed them for the most part to pick and choose when they weigh in on controversial issues.

“They have a little more flexibility in defining and framing who they are,” said Robert Holsworth, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The two Democrats are expected to face some scrutiny on one of the state’s most divisive political issues: guns.

The Republican majority in the House at the start of the legislative session assigned Mr. Moran, who represents Alexandria, to the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, which controls most gun legislation. That means Mr. Moran will likely have to vote on proposals to change the state’s gun laws, even as he tries to create statewide appeal for his candidacy.

Mr. Deeds was recently forced to walk a similar line.

Mr. Deeds, who won the National Rifle Association’s endorsement when he ran in 2005 for attorney general, tried to tighten the rules around private gun sales at gun shows.

The bill involved closing the so-called “gun-show loophole” — which gun rights activists have long argued does not exist — and drew relatives of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, many of whom made emotional pleas to adopt the proposal.

Mr. Deeds said he was speaking up for parents of students who died at Virginia Tech and wanted to strike a balance between what pro-gun and anti-gun groups wanted.

But Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican, and other political observers said Mr. Deeds was trying to woo liberal voters he likely will need to win the Democratic nomination.

The bill was killed in committee, and Mr. Deeds disagreed with the suggestion that he offered the amendment to bolster his record.

“I am what I am,” he said. “I’ve been in the legislature 17 years, and I have my record.” Still, he said he knows the odds are against him jumping from lawmaker to governor.

“The last time that happened was the election of 1949 — John Battle,” he said. “It has only happened twice.”

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