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Deeds jumps at opening to blast foe's 1989 thesis

Candidate attacks paper at Richmond press conference

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

For state Sen. Creigh Deeds, Thursday was all about the college thesis.

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee's campaign launched a multi-pronged attack against Republican nominee Bob McDonnell, holding a press conference with female supporters in Richmond and launching a Web site and radio ads to call attention to the document.

The Bath County Democrat argues that McDonnell's thesis, a 1989 policy analysis of how Republicans could support the traditional family going into the 1990s, proves the former attorney general is out of the mainstream on social issues.

McDonnell has repeatedly renounced much of the document, saying his views on social issues have moderated markedly in 20 years.

Deeds' campaign will have none of it, though. Thursday's radio ads accuse the Republican of planning to "take us back to the dark ages."

"He said day care is a bad idea because it encourages women to work, no birth control for married adults and opposed equal pay for women," a female voice says in part of the ad.

The Republican has pointedly disavowed all of those positions.

McDonnell's thesis is a handy weapon for a Deeds campaign that doesn't have many rocks to throw otherwise, according to Bob Holsworth, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University and VirginiaTomorrow.com.

"The Democrats do not believe that there is much of a downside in drawing attention to comments that are derogatory about certain groups and which McDonnell himself has been compelled to repudiate," Holsworth said.

Grabbing the thesis with both hands could also help to close an enthusiasm gap.

Numerous polls in Virginia have found Republicans champing at the bit to vote, while Democrats, flush with a string of successes culminating in the election of President Obama, have a bit of a political hangover.

"At a minimum, it reminds fellow Democrats why the race is important," Holsworth said. "And they are hoping that it will make independent voters have second thoughts about McDonnell."

Deeds has a serious problem with independents -- voters who identify with neither major party favor McDonnell by a 2-to-1 margin -- according to this week's Public Policy Polling survey.

"As one Democratic legislator told me the other day, 'It's what we have right now -- we better run with it,'" Holsworth said.

Deeds has to take the shine off of McDonnell, and quickly, Holsworth noted. The Republican holds a 9- or 10-point lead, according to recent polling.

"I think that they realize that they have to drive McDonnell's negatives up in order to make the race competitive," Holsworth said.

McDonnell's net favorability ratings remain remarkably high for a candidate involved in a contested statewide race -- plus 22 percentage points, compared to just plus 12 points for Deeds, according to this week's Public Policy Polling survey.

The "thesis" strategy does have some risk, though.

"This line of attack neither says anything positive about Deeds nor directly addresses what the Rasmussen poll shows as his major weakness -- on issues of fiscal responsibility he is running 15-20 points behind McDonnell," Holsworth said.

"Given the salience of economic issues to voters this years, Deeds cannot afford to cede fiscal responsibility to the Republicans, thesis or no thesis," he said.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

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1 Comment


Clearly McDonnell lacks the same enthusiasm for his religious based social ideology today as he did 20 years ago. Religious based political ideology brings a certain fervor to propound the absolute certainty of political righteousness by religious association. The overall change in public acceptance of 20 year old McDonnell pronouncements written in an "academic exercise" he now discredits has hurt his ability to garner votes in a changed but still mostly conservative rural Virginia society. Changing philosophies in mid-stream reminds conservatives of politicians as "flip-flopping" charlatans.

Is it possible politicians while pursuing votes alter their public persona while keeping their personal beliefs intact? How can we find out if this is true?

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