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McAuliffe Visits Churches

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe was ushered to the front row of the Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church in Norfolk as its pastor, the Rev. Kirk T. Houston, Jr., belted out a rocking gospel number with backing from the choir.

Then he introduced a young seminarian who was about to collect his degree from nearby Regent University--the university attended by GOP candidate Bob McDonnell.

Called to the pulpit next, McAuliffe gave a hoarse but rousing stump speech, bringing many in the congregation of approximately 300 people to their feet when he promised to work for the automatic restoration of voting rights to convicted felons.

"I want to make it crystal clear - I want to help people," McAuliffe said.

From the start, McAuliffe also reminded worshippers that as DNC chair, he had created a center to protect minorities' voter rights. He told the congregation that he had received the endorsement of every African-American newspaper in the state that makes endorsements. He also reiterated his pledge to shut down payday lenders and hammered again and again at the idea that he would create jobs, saying he would generate more employment than the governors of 49 other states. He promised to donate the governor's salary to charity and improve educational opportunities.

"Let's stop building prisons and make sure our children can read by the time they reach third grade," McAuliffe said, reworking a previous pledge but also avoiding a questionable assertion in previous ads by the campaign that had claimed that state officials in Virginia use test data on third-grade reading scores to help gauge how many prison beds might be necessary in the future.

Then McAuliffe told a story about meeting a woman at a hair salon in the city who has not been able to vote for 16 years because she was a convicted felon, having passed a bad $250 check when she was 18 years old.

Afterwards, McAuliffe said he encountered the hairstylist while getting a $14 haircut at a Haircuttery in the city recently. Although the woman admitted that the bounced check had not been a mistake--she had known her bank balance had zero funds--she told McAuliffe she had no choice because she needed the money. Yet she still could not vote.

"That's crazy," McAuliffe said. "She said, 'Terry, I needed the money.'"

In an interview, McAuliffe shifted fire from Brian Moran, who had been an early target in the campaign, to Creigh Deeds, who has gained momentum in recent weeks. McAuliffe said Northern Virginia voters would be turned off by Deeds' vote for a gas tax as part of an ill-fated plan to resolve the region's traffic woes, and he predicted that the more liberal suburban voters in the Washington region would recoil from Deeds' support of gun rights. And he wanted to remind voters that Deeds already has lost to McDonnell in a statewide race during the 2005 campaign for Attorney General. Deeds lost by 323 votes.

Fredrick Kunkle

By Anita Kumar  |  June 7, 2009; 3:58 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Brian J. Moran , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Terry McAuliffe  
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