- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

R. Creigh Deeds elicited audible groans when he hammered at his opponent’s 20-year-old graduate school thesis in the second and feistiest encounter between the Virginia gubernatorial candidates Thursday, seeking to press an issue that has tightened his race against his Republican opponent.

Robert F. McDonnell, for his part, drubbed the Democrat for his lack of a transportation plan in a session that was notable mainly for the intensity with which the candidates presented familiar positions on the core issues of transportation and taxes, and such hot-button issues as terrorism trials, gun control and immigration.

With Election Day less than two months away, the two were combative almost from the minute they began speaking, with Mr. Deeds immediately bringing up the 1989 thesis in which the Republican was critical of working women, abortion and gays.

Mr. Deeds, who has closed in most polls to within about 5 percentage points of Mr. McDonnell since the document became public, repeatedly cited the paper as evidence that the Republican is fixated on a “narrow band of social issues.”

But by the end of the hourlong debate at Capital One’s sprawling complex in McLean, soft groans could be heard from the audience of about 450 business-suited executives when the Democrat again offered the thesis as evidence that Mr. McDonnell doesn’t support working women.

Mr. McDonnell, who in recent weeks has repudiated some of what he wrote, fired back at the Democrat, noting that his eldest daughter has served as a platoon leader working with 25 men in Iraq.

He also laid into Mr. Deeds on roads, a top issue for gridlocked Northern Virginia residents, saying, “I’m shocked that with 47 days to go, my opponent walks in here and has no transportation plan, not one dime, not one project.” He later held up a blank piece of paper and referred to it as the Democrat’s plan.

Mr. Deeds retorted that he would get a transportation plan passed in his first year in office as governor, one that would raise in excess of $1 billion a year dedicated to transportation funding.

“My opponent has an approach as well that takes $540 million a year out of the general fund, most of which comes from education,” he said. “That’s the only thing that’s off the table for me. I will not rob Peter to pay Paul. I will not take money out of other core responsibilities of government. I will not take money out of education.”

Mr. Deeds also criticized Mr. McDonnell’s transportation plan - which includes privatizing the state’s liquor stores and adding toll roads - as unrealistic.

Both candidates said they would not raise taxes.

After the debate, Mr. Deeds quickly clarified his position to reporters, saying that he would not raise taxes for the general fund but would keep his options open in terms of raising taxes to fund transportation proposals.

“I didn’t mean to make news with that answer,” he said.

Mr. McDonnell told reporters after the debate that even if the legislature passed a bill he would not as governor sign any legislation that raises taxes.

The debate concentrated on federal issues that Mr. McDonnell has used to campaign against Mr. Deeds including the president’s cap-and-trade energy initiative and health care reform as well as card-check, a bill that allows workers to form a union after collecting signatures rather than votes.

Mr. Deeds said he unequivocally opposes the cap-and-trade energy bill that limits greenhouse gas emissions.

But he also said that Mr. McDonnell was spending money on advertisements that misrepresent his position. Those ads are airing in Southwest Virginia.

“I’ve said multiple times now in front of Bob,” Mr. Deeds said turning to Mr. McDonnell. “I don’t support the bill but he’s still spends money lying to people.”

While both men said they supported reforming health care, Mr. McDonnell pointed to the government’s track record with Medicare and Medicaid as reason why the federal government should not branch out into a public health care system, especially without a clear way to pay for it.

The candidates both said that immigrants in the United States should be here legally.

But, while Mr. Deeds said Virginia cannot afford to spend state and local dollars to bolster federal obligations, Mr. McDonnell said he thought it was useful to train officers to assist federal agents.

As for Virginia gun policies, both men touted their strong support of the Second Amendment; however, they disagreed on closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows people to purchase weapons in such arenas without a background check.

Mr. Deeds said his support for closing the loophole came at the behest of family members of Virginia Tech shooting victims.

Mr. McDonnell said the real problem was actually a mental health care loophole that he said he and Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, worked to correct. Mr. Kaine signed an executive order blocking gun sales to people involuntarily committed for mental health treatment. But he said he opposed regulation of sales of private firearms. Earlier this week, Mr. McDonnell received an endorsement by the National Rifle Association.

Both men said they did not want trials of detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held in Virginia. Mr. Deeds said he thought his relationship with President Obama was close enough that he could recommend that the trials be held elsewhere.

Mr. Deeds said he looked forward to having Mr. Obama campaign for him. But when asked whether he would call himself an “Obama Democrat,” he passed and said he calls himself a “Creigh Deeds Democrat.”

When asked during the debate whether the candidates thought that opposition to the president’s agenda was race-based, Mr. Deeds said that while he hoped the nation was beyond racism, he thought that “clearly there is a hint of racism in some of the opposition to President Obama.”

Mr. Deeds then pointed to the “unprecedented outburst” by Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, during the president’s joint address before Congress as evidence of something that had not occurred during previous presidencies.

After the debate, Mr. McDonnell said he did not think that racism was a factor, but noted that Mr. Wilson had not been civil toward the president.

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