- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

RICHMOND, Va. — Republican Bob McDonnell accepted his party’s charge Saturday to pry the Virginia governor’s office from Democratic control for the first time since 2002.

Before a roaring crowd of more than 10,000 delegates, the uncontested conservative former attorney general tacked toward the middle, focusing on jobs as unemployment climbs in a poor economy.

“To every Virginian who needs a job, to every small business owner trying to make payroll, to every retiree alarmed at losses in their retirement account, to every homeowner concerned about their home value, to every parent writing the next tuition check, to every clergyman struggling to keep a strong community,” McDonnell said, “this campaign is for you.”

It marked McDonnell’s most assertive effort yet to take up the jobs issue that three Democrats have dominated for months as they battle toward a June 9 primary. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry R. McAuliffe and former House of Delegates Democratic Caucus leader Brian J. Moran are vying for their party’s nomination.

At all levels, Democrats have pounded McDonnell and other GOP candidates for defeating an effort to use $125 million in federal stimulus cash to expand unemployment benefits for Virginians left jobless by the worst economic crash since the Great Depression.

In a must-win election after a historic 2008 drubbing capped an eight-year losing skid in statewide elections, McDonnell sought to bridge the GOP chasm between its base of conservative activists and volunteers and its need to capture independent voters who have given Democrats their margin of victory in recent years.

In a populist overture, he said Virginia’s colleges and universities would award an additional 100,000 degrees over the next 15 years and he railed against tax increases.

Delegates also warmed to his claim that pro-labor “card check” legislation now before Congress would endanger Virginia’s standing as a right-to-work state, a claim Democrats dispute. He was referring to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would permit a union to be certified if a majority of workers at a plant sign union authorization cards.

There was only scant mention of the Roman Catholic McDonnell’s career-long opposition to abortion and his support for gun rights, but both drew wild ovations. The same was true as he made aggressive oil and coal production the heart of his energy policy as wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are developed.

He also sought to rebut the label Democrats have effectively applied to the GOP as “the party of ‘no.’”

“On energy, our opponents will say no to offshore drilling, no to clean coal, no to nuclear and no to new jobs and investment that comes with it. When it comes to promoting energy independence, they’ll just say no, we’ll just say yes,” McDonnell said.

After McDonnell’s 30-minute speech, the convention still had to settle nomination contests for attorney general and lieutenant governor, and the election of its state party chairman.

State Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli was the favorite to win the attorney general nomination over former federal prosecutor John Brownlee and Arlington lawyer Dave Foster.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling faced only nominal opposition for nomination for re-election over Patrick Muldoon, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1996.

And interim state GOP chairman Pat Mullins had the blessing of McDonnell, House Speaker Bill Howell and other party leaders against Bill Stanley, a Franklin County lawyer. The winner will serve the remaining three years of Jeff Frederick, who was ousted in April.

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