McLEAN — The insults and accusations have been flying on television and in press conferences for weeks.
Thursday, Virginia gubernatorial candidates Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R) battled each other in person, offering some of their sharpest words of the fall campaign.
Before a crowd of Northern Virginia business leaders, the candidates sparred on a broad range of issues, including what the men would do to solve the Commonwealth’s transportation nightmares.
“I’ve handed out my transportation plan: 19 pages, single spaced. Here’s my opponent’s plan: not a thing on it,” McDonnell said, waving a blank sheet of notebook paper.
It was a talking point McDonnell hammered home, later adding that Deeds “honestly has no plan — not one dime, not a single proposal — other than ‘elect me and I’ll get it done.'”
How to pay for those road projects proved to be a key moment of the debate. Moderator David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, asked Deeds about the possibility of a tax hike.
“No, I’m not gonna raise taxes,” the Democrat said. He quickly added,”But I’m the only person on this dais who will sign a transportation plan that raises new money.”
After the debate, reporters repeated pressed Deeds to explain that statement. He clarified his comments, saying he’s opposed to general fund tax increases, leaving the door open for a possible tax hike to pay for transportation.
“For transportation, everything’s on the table except for taking money from education,” Deeds said.
The debate also provided another opportunity for Deeds to hammer McDonnell on social issues, specifically abortion, contraception and women in the workplace.
“He’s been focused on a narrow band of social issues and a social agenda,” Deeds said.
At one point in the event, after Deeds again mentioned McDonnell’s controversial Master’s thesis which called working women detrimental to the traditional family, some members of the audience groaned.
After some prodding, McDonnell pointed to his family, then turned to Deeds.
“There’s my wife and daughter. I’ve told you I support working women,” McDonnell said, with obvious aggitation in his voice.
For his part, McDonnell once again brought up federal measures — the cap and trade energy bill, the so-called “card check” union measure and health care reform — in an attempt to tie Deeds to President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats.
Deeds said he does not support the version of the cap and trade measure that passed the U.S. House earlier this summer.
“I’ve said multiple times now in front of Bob: I don’t support the bill,” Deeds said.
He also accused McDonnell of using television ads to distort his position.
“He’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars downstate lying to people about my record.”
McDonnell later told reporters that “we all know what the code is” in Deeds’ remarks.
“He’s trying to have it both ways in front of a business audience,” the Republican said.
When Gregory asked Deeds whether he agreed with Mr. Obama on everything, Deeds said no. When pressed on whether he’s an “Obama Democrat,” Deeds dodged the question saying, “I’m a Creigh Deeds Democrat.”
“A HINT OF RACISM”
Gregory also asked Deeds about the criticism leveled at the president, specifically if race had anything to do with it.
“There’s a hint of racism in some of the opposition to President Obama that’s crystal clear,” Deeds said.
He added that he was “very disturbed” by Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) “you lie” comments during Mr. Obama’s address to a Joint Session of Congress.
“I thought that was an unprecedented outburst that would not have occurred in the past presidency, did not occur in the past presidency,” Deeds said.
When asked about the Wilson outburst, McDonnell told the press corps that he did not believe the comments were racially motivated, though he does consider the outburst “uncivil.”
McDonnell pointed out that his criticism of the White House was also not based on race.
“My view is solely about policy.”