- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell’s most prized supporter was by his side Tuesday for an appearance before a women’s group in Northern Virginia.

Billionaire BET Networks co-founder Sheila Johnson attended a Women for McDonnell event in Tysons Corner, delivering a scripted speech to a crowd of about 100 and a handful of reporters.

The longtime Democrat who campaigned for President Obama and Gov. Tim Kaine crossed the aisle earlier this year to support Mr. McDonnell.

“Bob’s message resonated with me from the moment I met with him,” Ms. Johnson said. “For me, it isn’t about party. It’s about policy and the person.”

The appearance came a week after a video surfaced on the Internet showing Ms. Johnson criticizing Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds’ communications skills and mocking his distinctive, halting speaking style.

Ms. Johnson, who apologized for the incident last week, did not discuss it in her remarks Tuesday. Afterward, she refused to take questions from reporters as she was ushered into a private luncheon by a McDonnell staffer and a bodyguard who accompanied her.

Bob Holsworth, a former public-policy professor who runs the political Web site Virginia Tomorrow, said that while it can’t be helpful to have a supporter who must be protected from the press, the McDonnell campaign clearly has indicated it values her support.

“They are extremely proud to have her support, and they’re going to continue to support her as well,” Mr. Holsworth said.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that incident will ultimately have very little impact on the election.

“Because of what she said, she is of less utility to McDonnell than she was, but it still doesn’t hurt to have a prominent African-American woman at the top of a story about McDonnell,” he said.

McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin agreed.

“You’re going to see a lot more of Sheila Johnson on the campaign trail. The fact is, she is a prominent Democratic businesswoman who has strongly supported Barack Obama and Tim Kaine, and now she is supporting Bob McDonnell. In a campaign about jobs and the economy, she has a powerful message,” he said.

“She is a walking representation that job creators are not supporting Creigh Deeds,” he said.

Mr. McDonnell told reporters after the event that he thought Mrs. Johnson meant no harm when she was taped mocking Mr. Deeds. He noted that she had apologized for her remarks, but he didn’t repudiate her actions.

Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold said the candidate needs to take a stand against such behavior.

“It’s disappointing that Bob McDonnell continues to embrace the vicious personal attacks of his supporters, like Sheila Johnson and Rush Limbaugh,” he said. ‘If he can’t stand up to his closest supporters, how can Virginians expect him to stand up for them?”

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