Gubernatorial debate turns contentious in N.Va.

At left, R. Creigh Deeds points at Bob McDonnell. At right, McDonnell holds up a blank sheet of paper to represent what he says is Deeds' roads plan.

McLEAN - Familiarity may be breeding contempt in the Virginia governor's race.

The second debate between Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell featured the most pointed and prickly exchanges between the candidates to date.

The debate came as a new poll showed the race about even. The Rasmussen Reports telephone poll of 500 likely voters showed McDonnell at 48 percent and Deeds at 46 percent. The poll's margin of error was 4.5 percentage points. Two weeks ago, McDonnell led by 9 percentage points.

During the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce debate, attended by several hundred businesspeople at Capital One's Northern Virginia campus, both men saved their rhetorical firepower for the areas they perceive to be the greatest weakness in their rivals.

Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, continued to hammer McDonnell on his controversial 1989 graduate-school thesis, which stated, in part, that working women are detrimental to the family. McDonnell, a former delegate and former state attorney general, said Deeds has no transportation plan.

Deeds said McDonnell had not focused on economic development as a legislator and attorney general but instead had pursued a "narrow band of social issues" that were hostile to women and their reproductive rights.

"I didn't write when I was 34 years old that working women were detrimental to the family," Deeds said. "I didn't write when I was 34 years old that Roe v. Wade ought to be overturned. I didn't write when I was 34 years old that the state ought to be involved in contraception decisions for married adults."

McDonnell said that as governor he would promote "on merit and ability." And he reprised a line from Ronald Reagan during a 1980 debate with President Jimmy Carter:

"There you go again," he said. "Here's my wife and daughter," McDonnell said, pointing to his family seated in the front row.

"I told you I support working women," said McDonnell, who noted that half of his top 10 deputies at the attorney general's office were women.

"I'm frankly pretty insulted that you would say that my daughter, who I supported and loved for 28 years," and who led an Army platoon in Iraq, "that I don't support working women."

McDonnell also went on the offensive during the debate. He said Deeds is a big spender favored by big labor.

He attacked Deeds for not putting forth a transportation plan that spells out how he would pay for $1 billion in improvements to the state's roads.

"Here's my opponent's plan," said McDonnell, holding up a blank sheet of paper. "Not a thing on it. That's his only plan - to raise taxes."

Deeds, under questioning by moderator David Gregory of NBC's "Meet the Press," said he would not raise general taxes and that he would not pay for transportation by taking money from the general fund or education. But he said he would sign a transportation plan that raises new money.

"I will do that as long as it's a dedicated source of funding for transportation, as long as it has a nexus between the people who use the system and the system itself, and as long as it's part of a plan that's long-term in scope and statewide in nature," he said.

He said McDonnell's plan would drain money from education and that McDonnell's plan to sell the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control stores to raise money would cost the state the $65 million a year that it receives from their revenue.

McDonnell said he would not raise taxes as governor. After the debate, he said he would not sign a transportation bill submitted to him by the legislature if it included any tax increase.

There were other contentious and uncomfortable moments for the candidates during the hourlong debate, the second of four before the Nov. 3 general election.

Deeds said McDonnell had been spending "hundreds of thousands of dollars downstate lying about my record" on federal "cap-and-trade" legislation to reduce carbon emissions. Deeds said during the debate that he opposes the legislation.

When Deeds questioned McDonnell's plan to sell the state's ABC stores, McDonnell noted that former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder - an influential Democrat who has yet to endorse a candidate in the race - had proposed the idea to then-Gov. Mark R. Warner seven years ago.

"Creigh, it will work," McDonnell said. "You can talk to Doug Wilder and he'll explain it to you."

Citing previous remarks in which Deeds said he doesn't always agree with President Barack Obama's policies, Gregory asked Deeds: "Is he your kind of Democrat?"

Deeds paused and smiled before explaining his position and responding: "I'm a Creigh Deeds Democrat."

Gregory also asked Deeds whether he thought some of the opposition to Obama "in this state and in other parts of the country is motivated by racism."

"I'd like to think in this country that we're beyond some things, but clearly there is a hint of racism in some of the opposition to President Obama - that is crystal clear," Deeds said.

Gregory did not ask the same question of McDonnell. But after the debate, McDonnell was asked whether he thought South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie" charge during Obama's health-care address to Congress last week was racist.

"No," McDonnell said. "But it was uncivil."


Contact Jim Nolan at (804) 649-6061 or jnolan@timesdispatch.com.

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