Friday, May 15, 2009

NORFOLK (AP) | With former President Bill Clinton in tow, Democrat Terry McAuliffe pitched his business experience as a stronger asset in this fall’s governor’s race than his two rivals’ legislative background.

In the third campaign swing across Virginia with the former president known for a record peacetime economic expansion, Mr. McAuliffe focused on experience in a strategy to define the rest of the field as part of a legislature that too often impeded progress.

He faces a June 9 Democratic primary against state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and former House Democratic Caucus leader Brian J. Moran.

The winner faces uncontested Republican Robert F. McDonnell, a former legislator and attorney general, in a November election that will be widely watched as the first voter referendum on President Obama and the Democratic Congress.

“I’m the only one standing on that stage who hasn’t been a part of this partisan bickering that we’ve had down in Richmond,” Mr. McAuliffe told about 250 people at a morning rally at the Nauticus museum with the massive battleship USS Wisconsin in the background.

“My argument is if you’re looking for something different, I’ve got the best opportunity to beat Bob McDonnell,” he said.

In his first run for elective office and with no record of his own in government, Mr. McAuliffe has no choice but to try to make his rivals’ record a weakness. He’s also calling on his roster of friends and celebrities from decades as a top Democratic Party fixer that the other candidates lack to help amplify the message. In addition to having Mr. Clinton on hand, he toured Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia on Tuesday with hip-hop star and Democratic activist

Mr. McAuliffe is burnishing his background as an entrepreneur and investor with experience in creating jobs.

The issue of jobs in the most troubled economy since the Great Depression not only meshes well with Mr. Clinton’s legacy, it allows Mr. McAuliffe to pivot easily into the Democrats’ central attack on the GOP.

From Gov. Tim Kaine - the Democratic National Committee chairman - to individual House of Delegates races, Virginia Democrats are hammering away at a Republican-led vote in the House of Delegates on April 8 to reject $128 million in federal stimulus money to expand benefits for the state’s growing rolls of the unemployed.

“Now let’s be clear about this: This was your money. This was U.S. taxpayer money. That’s now gone,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Mr. McDonnell and other Republicans along with the business lobby were resolute in opposing the $125 million Mr. Kaine had recommended because it would require changes in state unemployment insurance laws and require employers to eventually pay about $4.50 more per year for each worker on their payrolls.

The money, however, may not be gone. Virginia still has time to reclaim the money if the 2010 General Assembly changes the state’s unemployment benefits laws.

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