- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder turned his back on his party Thursday, refusing to endorse Democrat R. Creigh Deeds for Virginia governor.

The nation’s first black elected governor said he would not endorse Mr. Deeds or Republican candidate Robert F. McDonnell.

“This in no wise is intended to detract from Mr. Deeds in terms of character or commitment to the task of being Governor. I find that he, as well as Mr. McDonnell are fine and honorable men and well suited to that task. The question before me is whether I support the Democratic candidate’s position in addressing these issues. I have not thus far in the progress of the campaign, and as aforesaid refrain from so doing,” Mr. Wilder said in a written statement announcing his decision.

In recent weeks, Mr. Wilder was courted by both candidates and received telephone calls from President Obama and Gov. Tim Kaine, who also heads the Democratic National Committee, requesting that he back his fellow Democrat.

Deeds campaign spokesman Jared Leopold sent out a statement immediately after the announcement.

“We respect Governor Wilder’s decision,” he said. “While Creigh and he may not agree on every issue, they share a fundamental commitment to keeping Virginia the best managed state in the nation, as Governor Wilder first made it in 1992. As governor, Creigh intends to seek Governor Wilder’s counsel often, and looks forward to working with him.”

In an interview earlier this week, Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University, said the refusal to endorse the Democrat is a huge boon for the Republican candidate, who had been actively seeking Mr. Wilder’s support.

“Merely to have [the] impression solidified that there is a leading Democrat hesitant or unwilling to endorse the Democratic nominee, that is enough to raise some doubts in the mind of some voters,” Mr. Rozell said.

The outcome hardly was certain for Mr. McDonnell, who is considered closer to Mr. Wilder than his opponent. The two worked together for several years when Mr. Wilder was mayor of Richmond and Mr. McDonnell was attorney general.

Since Mr. Wilder left office in 2008, the two have continued to talk frequently and meet.

Mr. Deeds sat down for the first substantive discussion on the issues Monday with the former governor, Mr. Wilder said.

Mr. Wilder also declined to endorse Mr. Deeds once before.

In the 2005 race for attorney general, Mr. Wilder opted not to endorse either candidate but said he was not endorsing Mr. Deeds specifically because he hadn’t voted in favor of the governor’s one-gun-a-month bill.

Mr. Deeds went on to lose that race to Mr. McDonnell.

The former governor often has withheld his endorsement until the weeks leading up to Election Day, but this year he told The Washington Times in an earlier interview that he was breaking with tradition in light of the tough economic times.

The endorsement was important for both candidates because it is thought to carry high value across the state and would have been especially helpful for Mr. McDonnell when it comes to influencing the black vote, long elusive to Republicans.

George Allen captured 20 percent of the black vote in 1993 when he was elected to succeed Mr. Wilder as governor, and 17 percent when he unseated Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in 2000.

In the 2006 Senate race, black voters abandoned the Republican Party in droves after Mr. Allen called a volunteer for opponent Jim Webb a “macaca” at a campaign event. The term, which Mr. Allen said he made up, is considered a racial slur in some cultures.

Twenty percent of Virginia’s population is black, according to the U.S. census. The Obama campaign registered thousands of new black voters on President Obama’s way to winning the state in 2008.

Mr. Deeds trailed his two Democratic rivals among black voters in polls conducted before the primary, and a recent Public Policy Polling survey showed 81 percent of black voters said they would vote for Mr. Deeds.

Mr. McDonnell is not without his own endorsements. On Wednesday, the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce announced that it will be endorsing him. Early Thursday, the state’s Fraternal Order of Police said it will endorse Mr. McDonnell.

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