- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Virginia Republicans have found their “bright line,” the clear difference they say sets gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell apart from his opponent, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

Taxes.

After weeks of trying to explain away socially conservative statements in Mr. McDonnell’s 1989 post-graduate thesis, Republicans are back on the offensive since Mr. Deeds gave them an opening by expressing his willingness to raise taxes.

“Creigh Deeds is now the first major candidate for governor of Virginia to run on an outright platform of raising taxes, and he’s running on that platform at a time of recession and a time when people are concerned about jobs and concerned about their ability to make ends meet, and we think that is a significant development in the campaign,” McDonnell campaign chairman, Ed Gillespie, told reporters during a conference call Friday.

Mr. McDonnell has said he would not raise taxes and would veto any bills that contained a tax increase, while Mr. Deeds left open the possibility of raising taxes to fund transportation fixes.



Republicans have interpreted Mr. Deeds’ position as a promise to raise taxes.

In response, Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold said “it is no wonder Bob McDonnell wants to change the topic” because Mr. Deeds is “the only candidate in this race with a real plan to provide transportation solutions.”

The issue first emerged during a debate earlier this month in which both candidates stated that they would not raise taxes. Mr. Deeds, however, quickly clarified his answer after the debate, saying he would not raise general fund taxes.

That prompted a flurry of press releases from state Republicans, who highlighted the distinction between the candidates.

Mr. Deeds attempted to clarify his position in a Sept. 23 Op-Ed in the Washington Post discussing his transportation plan.

“Let me be clear regarding taxes. I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution. As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I’ll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation - even if it includes new taxes,” Mr. Deeds wrote.

Deeds campaign adviser Mo Elleithee said the Op-Ed has brought the candidate praise.

“That Op-Ed and the underlying message in it has been receiving very strong and favorable ratings from a lot of people. We’ve been getting a tremendous amount of positive response to it from voters, from political watchers, from editorial boards, who all say he’s got the right approach to dealing with our transportation crisis,” Mr. Elleithee said.

The plan was complimented Thursday by the Washington Post editorial board - whose endorsement of Mr. Deeds in the Democratic gubernatorial primary is widely credited with energizing what had been a dark horse bid. However, the editorial board characterized the candidate’s statement as meaning Mr. Deeds “unequivocally committed himself to support higher taxes to rescue the state’s sclerotic road system.”

The approach has been criticized in light of the state’s economic woes.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a popular Democrat in the state, has rejected White House pressure to endorse Mr. Deeds, citing the candidate’s willingness to raise taxes as the overwhelming reason.

“That doesn’t show leadership and responsibility to me,” said Mr. Wilder, who is not endorsing either candidate.

Mr. Deeds’ remarks in the Op-Ed threaten to reframe a debate that in recent weeks had centered on Mr. McDonnell’s 20-year-old graduate school thesis, in which he was critical of working women, gays and birth control.

Bob Holsworth, the former public policy professor who runs the political Web site Virginia Tomorrow, said candidates statewide are now going to be asked if they are a “Creigh Deeds Democrat” who will vote to raise taxes.

“There are a lot of folks who probably didn’t want to make this an issue in the campaign and are now going to be compelled to take a stand,” Mr. Holsworth said.

Making taxes a centerpiece of the debate might help Republicans, he said, adding that taxes are historically an issue on which the party can connect with voters.

“Republicans did extraordinarily well nationally when they could reframe the issue as taxers or no taxers,” Mr. Holsworth said.

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