Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds held another debate in Fairfax yesterday morning, and it became fairly clear early on that the race has entered a much more combative phase:
Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Robert F. McDonnell offered starkly different views on jobs, transportation, taxes and social issues Thursday in a debate that was combative almost from the minute the candidates for governor stepped onto the stage.
Both men were on the offensive for the duration of the hour-long debate in Tysons Corner. McDonnell accused Deeds of being a big spender who would increase the tax burden on Virginians, and the Democrat repeatedly attacked his opponent over a 20-year-old graduate school thesis, in which McDonnell laid out a conservative action plan to promote traditional families through government policy.
Deeds stepped up attacks that he has been airing in campaign commercials by insisting that McDonnell followed up his thesis with a long career of opposing working women, abortion and birth control as a member of the state House of Delegates.
“We know you don’t support working women, but what do you have against working families, Bob?” Deeds asked in one exchange.
“Creigh, there you go again,” said McDonnell, making use of a famous Ronald Reagan debate zinger. “Here’s my wife and daughter. I’ve told you I support working women. Quite frankly, it’s pretty insulting that you would say that my daughter, that I support and loved for 28 years, who went to fight in Iraq, that I don’t support working women.”
Later, Deeds opened himself to criticism by saying that he would not raise taxes but that he would come up with new money to pay for road and transit improvements. Pushed by reporters after the debate to explain the seeming contradiction, Deeds amended his answer to say he has no plans to raise taxes that go to the state’s general fund, which pays for schools, public safety and other services. He did not make the same promise for taxes that support the state’s transportation trust fund.
“What that meant is, in the general sense of the term, I’m not going to raise general fund taxes,” Deeds said. “I’m willing to sign a bill that raises new money for transportation. In fact, I intend to sign that bill.”
You can see that video here.
In the process of answering that question, though, Deeds put his foot in his mouth:
Deeds might have hurt his attempts to appeal to women voters during the same post-debate discussion by making a sharp remark to a female reporter who asked about his plan to pay for road improvements. “I think I made myself clear, young lady,” said Deeds, though he said it with a smile. The exchange was quickly posted on YouTube and sent out by the state Republican party. Deeds later called to apologize to the reporter, Chelyen Davis of the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, who said she was not offended by the remark.
Here’s that video:
The candidates also clashed over national issues, which seems to be just what McDonnell wants:
As he has for months, McDonnell tried Thursday to steer the conversation to controversial federal issues, including legislation on unions, climate change and health care, as he works to tie Deeds to President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Deeds was more willing than in the first debate to discuss some of those issues, saying that McDonnell is “lying” in a television ad that accuses Deeds of backing a bill in Congress that caps greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s a 1,500-page bill right now that nobody quite understands,” Deeds said. “It, in my view, would put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
“I’ve said multiple times in front of Bob,” Deeds continued, turning to McDonnell, “I don’t support the bill.”
Deeds also appeared to distance himself from Obama, who has endorsed the Democrat. Deeds said he is proud of the president’s support, calling him “smart” and “innovative,” but when he was asked whether Obama is his kind of Democrat, Deeds paused for a long moment before declaring, “I’m a Creigh Deeds Democrat.”
On health care, Deeds said he supported Obama’s goals of increasing access while bringing down costs, including a mandate that individuals become insured. He said the government should takes steps to mitigate the effect of reform on small businesses. McDonnell said he thought reform efforts in Washington would add to the federal deficit.
Given yesterday’s poll results, I think we can expect to see more of this.