McDonnell Stays Cool In Debate

Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell met in Richmond tonight for their first prime-time televised debate in the Virginia gubernatorial race — and the big news tonight is that nothing appeared to happen that would upset the current status quo, with McDonnell ahead and Deeds working to catch up.

McDonnell remained unflappable — none of Deeds’ attacks or the questions from moderator Judy Woodruff threw him off from his steady pace. In the first question, he was asked whether the recent Democratic or Republican presidents and Virginia governors have done a better job for Virginia’s economy — a potential curveball, in light of how unpopular George W. Bush still is, as well as the state’s most recent Republican governor, Jim Gilmore.

“You might suspect the likely answer from me would be the Republicans have done a better job,” McDonnell said. He credited Republican ideas such as low taxes, right-to-work laws and other pro-business policies with helping the state: “I think those are the ideas that have helped. What this election really is about here in Virginia is job creation and economic development.”Deeds tried to hang the unpopularity of the national Republican brand on McDonnell. “When Bill took office we were in recession and facing massive job losses. And while Bill Clinton was president, we had the largest period of peacetime economic growth in our nation’s history,” said Deeds. “George Bush took office ,the economy went under again. George Bush led to a long series of irresponsible policies that undermined economic growth.”

And Deeds also invoked the memory of Jim Gilmore: “The governor that was in office before Mark Warner had control of the governor’s mansion and the House and the Senate, and couldn’t agree to a balanced budget — the only time in our history we couldn’t get one passed.”

But McDonnell also tied Deeds to the current Democratic leadership in Congress, on issues that aren’t so popular in Virginia, saying of his own leadership: “It will not reflect the leadership of the current Congress, which is imposing massive debt on citizens, enacting energy taxes and card check and some other things like that, that are not good. My whole approach to government is gonna be entrepreneurship, innovation, small business and new incentives to bring business to Virginia. That’s my philosophy.”

Deeds did go after McDonnell on the issues of gender equity, discussing a bill years ago in the legislature to guarantee equal pay for women. “I voted yes, Bob McDonnell voted no,” said Deeds. “I’ve worked to end discrimination in the workplace throughout my career. Bob McDonnell as recently as 2005 was a member of the board of regents of Regent University, which had a blatant policy that gave men a preference in hiring.”

On this issue, McDonnell fell back on the same answer he’s had for questions about his grad school thesis — a hard-right manifesto that denounced working women: “You know, I’ve been married to a working woman for 33 years. My wife and I have raised five kids, she’s worked in and outside of the home. I’ve raised three daughters in this great commonwealth. The oldest two, I’ve encouraged to be the best that they can be, and they’ve gone on to get master’s degree. My Oldest daughter was a platoon leader in Iraq when Creigh and I ran against each other for attorney general [in 2005]. I’d say that’s the ultimate working woman.”

He added that about half of his senior staff as state Attorney General were women, and that “I certainly want my daughters to have equal pay for the work that they do.”

During a later discussion on climate change, McDonnell said that the state should work to reduce its carbon emissions and encourage alternative energies — but also attacked Deeds for supposedly supporting cap and trade, which Deeds has said repeatedly he does not support citing Deeds’ work with commissions on climate change and with the Sierra Club.

“You know, Bob continues to talk about cap and trade, and he’s spending millions of dollars to lie to the voters of Virginia about it,” said Deeds, citing how has called the attack false. He added: “He wants this campaign to be decided on issues he’ll lie about. I can’t control him.”

In his closing speech, Deeds acknowledged his own awkwardness on the stump — a top McDonnell supporter recently ridiculed him for stuttering — and appealed to the spirit of that great underdog, Harry Truman. “Now there are real differences between Bob and me in matters of style, in matters of our record and in our vision for Virginia. I’m not the most eloquent speaker, but like Harry Truman I’ll work hard to get things done, for the people of Virginia.”

He also added: “As you’ve seen tonight, candidate McDonnell is a smooth talker, and has undergone a pretty serious political makeover this year. But he just can’t escape his record.”

ed. note: The quotes used here are rush transcriptions, and may be subject to future editing.