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Season begins for attack ads

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

Election Day is still more than two months away, but the two men running to be Virginia's next governor have already stopped pulling punches.

Television and radio ads attacking both Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell have gone on the air in the past four days.

McDonnell's campaign hasn't aired negative ads on its own yet, but the Republican Governors Association dropped $2 million on a media buy in every market except Northern Virginia designed to label Democratic candidate Deeds as a "big spender."

The ad uses video in which Deeds takes credit for more than $1 billion in budget amendments he proposed for the 2008-2010 biennial budget.

"In Richmond, we don't have earmarks, we have budget amendments, and I had more budget amendments than anyone," Deeds says in the ad.

A radio version of the ad keeps up the same line of attack.

"Democrat Creigh Deeds, a billion dollars in new government spending, even in a bad economy," intones a female voice.

The Bath County Democrat didn't take the shot lying down.

"In 2008, I proposed a budget amendment that would have ensured that our children's teachers get paid the national average," Deeds said.

That accounted for more than $900 million of Deeds' spending requests that year -- requests Deeds said he won't walk away from.

"I'm not going to apologize for making sure that Virginia's children get the best educational opportunities," he said. "And I'm not going to apologize for making sure that our public school teachers are top-quality."

Deeds has his own attack ads on the air, tying McDonnell to former President Bush.

"Bob McDonnell just called George W. Bush's economics a revival. Tax breaks for the super wealthy, job losses and foreclosures for the rest of us," a male voice says.

Deeds' latest radio ad takes a similar tack, with a man and woman at what sounds like a football game discussing the economy.

"George Bush, what a disaster for our economy," a female voice says.

"What I can't figure out is why this guy, Bob McDonnell, wants to do it just like Bush," a male voice answers.

Attack ads are par for the course, but they typically don't pop up quite this early in Virginia gubernatorial races.

They do show up, though, "if one side has grave concerns that the other side is pulling ahead or has a solid lead, then they're going to be more likely to attack," said Craig Brians, a professor of political science at Virginia Tech.

Seen in that light, the Deed campaign's attacks on McDonnell make sense. The Democrat is down by as much as 15 points in some polls.

But the reasoning behind the RGA's attacks on Deeds aren't as clear. Its ads could be an attempt to tamp down any gains the Democrat could make in rural areas.

"Maybe they feel they have a better chance elsewhere," Brians said.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

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