- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

It’s six months before Virginians elect their next governor, but you’d never know it from the cash being spent, the rhetoric and the latest partisan tempest: arguing over which party has the most unpalatable donors.

Using nearly $2.2 million in national party cash, Democrats are hammering de facto Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell for cheerleading GOP lawmakers who rejected $125 million in federal stimulus cash to fatten unemployment benefits as the state jobless rate rises.

Against the backdrop of the worst economy since World War II, Democrats sense they have a powerful issue among Virginia voters who have not been kind to once-dominant Republicans in statewide elections the past eight years.

While Democrats R. Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe and Brian J. Moran gird for a June 9 primary, the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) generously endowed a state political action committee called Common Sense Virginia, tasked to take the fight to Mr. McDonnell while the Democrats fight among themselves. And it has.

In the heaviest television ad buy of the still-young campaign, Common Sense Virginia is blanketing every media market in the state with ads that end with this damning question: “If Bob McDonnell won’t stand up for Virginia’s unemployed, do you thing he’d stand up for you?”

Actions by both sides this week indicate Mr. McDonnell is feeling the attack-PAC’s ad. After one week’s run, Common Sense Virginia renewed its statewide buy for another week, ensuring that it runs alongside Mr. McDonnell’s first ad of the campaign, which debuted Monday.

On Wednesday, Mr. McDonnell’s campaign summoned Republican adviser Ed Gillespie to denounce the ad as misleading and to attack the way DGA gave Common Sense Virginia $1.3 million in just four days last week.

“The DGA, they’re entitled to come in with their own money as long as they comply with our laws; they’re entitled to their own opinions; they’re not entitled to their own facts,” said Mr. Gillespie, a former state and national Republican national chairman who also counseled George W. Bush’s White House.

Mr. Gillespie quarreled with the claim in the ad that other states would get the $125 million General Assembly Republicans eschewed on April 8. It’s a claim Democrats dispute, and Virginia lawmakers could still enact legislation that makes the state eligible for the money.

But the ad correctly notes that Mr. McDonnell opposed an additional $125 million in benefits that Mr. Kaine recommended. Eligibility for that money required changes to Virginia’s unemployment insurance laws that would have marginally increased the unemployment insurance tax employers pay on each employee by $4.50 per year per employee. Mr. McDonnell, legislative Republicans and the state’s powerful corporate and business lobbies railed against the provision.

“What he’s opposed to is accepting a permanent mandate in exchange for temporary funding that would have a deleterious impact on employment in Virginia for years to come,” Mr. Gillespie said.

Those changes would have extended benefits for the first time to part-time workers and would have extended eligibility periods for people who lost jobs through no fault of their own and are enrolled in training programs for new careers. Democrats also counter that the changes to the law could be reversed without penalty once the federal funds run out.

Mr. Gillespie stressed the link between the national Democratic money and labor groups that are a core constituency.

“Big labor is targeting Bob McDonnell for his principled stand against card-check legislation,” Mr. Gillespie said. Card check, or the Employee Free Choice Act, would permit a union to be certified if a majority of workers at a plant sign union authorization cards.

Since Jan. 1, nearly 22 percent of the donations DGA has accepted of $2,500 or more have come from unions. Corporations or corporate executives accounted for about 60 percent.

Corporations, their CEOs and other top officers, however, comprised three-fourths of the $2,500-plus donors to DGA’s rival, the Republican Governors Association, which has given Mr. McDonnell’s campaign $2 million so far, according to reports the two national committees filed with the State Board of Elections.

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