In the background of my video from last night’s gubernatorial debate, I noticed staffers for both campaigns basking gleefully in the zips and zings flying across the stage.
Each side — for two very different reasons — believes it has the opposition squirming.
Republican Bob McDonnell is up in the polls. In fact, he’s never been behind in them. And even though he told reporters that he wasn’t lackadaisical about the debate, it was clear Monday that McDonnell was confident and composed.
He hammered Democrat Creigh Deeds, predictably, on taxes. McDonnell mentioned the word dozens of times.
Keep in mind that for many Virginians, the televised debate was really their first opportunity to hear directly from the candidates in a longer-form, unfiltered manner. That matters.
McDonnell also repeated his strong opposition to several federal measures up for debate on Capitol Hill, including the cap and trade energy bill. I counted five distinct mentions of the proposal, which McDonnell claims will cause electricity prices to skyrocket.
McDonnell has tried to tie Deeds to the Democrat-controlled Congress. His attempt to do so in this instance prompted Deeds to call his opponent a liar.
“I guess he wants this campaign to be decided on issues he’s going to lie about,” Deeds said.
McDonnell looked straight ahead, though he was obviously perturbed. Later he told reporters that “there needs to be more civility in politics” and he’d let voters decide whether the comment was appropriate.
Deeds backed off the statement somewhat, saying it was perhaps not the best choice of words, but emphasizing that he still believes McDonnell is misrepresenting Deeds’ stance on cap and trade.
For the record, the Democrat says he does not support the bill in it’s current form.
Deeds spent time chipping away at McDonnell on social issues (again). This debate brought a new tact, though — increased focus on McDonnell’s tenure on the Board of Visitors at Regent University. During that time, the conservative school had a hiring policy “consistent with a scriptural family policy.”
Deeds says that means the University explicitly favored hiring men over women. He brought up the policy multiple times Monday night.
He also defended his transportation plan, saying it was the only one that would actually yield results.
Also interesting to note: Deeds attempted to use to his advantage comments made about the way he talks.
A video released last week showed McDonnell surrogate Sheila Johnson stammering as Deeds often does, then laughing about it.
“I’m not the most eloquent speaker,” Deeds said Monday night. “But like Harry Truman, I tell the truth and I work hard to get things done.”
“Candidate McDonnell is a smooth talker and has undergone a pretty serious political makeover this year but he just can’t escape his record,” Deeds added.