Dueling cross-party endorsements
Republicans for Deeds. A prominent Democrat for McDonnell. The fight for the center is on.
“Eighteen years ago, I came to Richmond as a freshman delegate with both Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell,” former Roanoke Republican State Sen. Brandon Bell said this week at the launch of what is formally known as Virginians for Deeds, though the thrust is to put Republicans like Bell out there as being on the side of the Democratic Party nominee for governor.
“I respect them both and both are fine men. But over that time I have had plenty of opportunity to work with both of them and witness their abilities, and I believe that Creigh simply will make better decisions on key issues facing the Commonwealth,” Bell said.
On the flip side is Sheila Crump Johnson, the cofounder of Black Entertainment Television and the chairwoman of Gov. Tim Kaine’s inaugural committee, who is endorsing Republican nominee Bob McDonnell. “Make no mistake, these are tough economic times for all Virginians. Unemployment is on the rise and families are struggling to stay in their homes. We need bold and innovative leadership to move our state forward and that’s why I’ve chosen to support Bob McDonnell for governor,” Johnson said. “He has shown me that he has the right vision and the executive leadership skills that will guide Virginia through these challenging times. He understands that we have to help businesses in our state – both big and small – thrive so that we put Virginians back to work. I’m proud to endorse Bob McDonnell to be our next governor.”
The Johnson endorsement is key for McDonnell, who is trying to recast himself as the candidate who can get the Virginia economy moving on top of a record in the General Assembly that had him joining with Republicans to try to block efforts by Gov. Mark Warner to boost education and transportation spending seen as key economic drivers.
And the backing of Bell and a host of former Republican legislative leaders – including former State Senate Majority Leader John Chichester, former Winchester State Sen. Russ Potts and former Newport News State Sen. Marty Williams – could be key for the Deeds effort just the same as Deeds seeks to follow in the footsteps of recent successful statewide Democratic candidates Mark Warner, Jim Webb and Tim Kaine in siphoning off the votes of moderate Republican voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads frustrated with the blockade that the rightward-drifting state GOP has put up in Richmond in recent years.
I want to call this trade of endorsements a push, but I can see where both sides can lay claim to having won the week in terms of getting backing from folks on the other side of the political aisle.
If I had to call it one way or the other, I’d lean right now to Deeds in getting the support of an array of former Republican legislators to his cause. But if Johnson’s move to endorse McDonnell is backed up by another nod from former governor and former Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder, well …
– Column by Chris Graham