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Excerpts: Live Discussion With Post Reporters

Christopher Dean Hopkins

Anita Kumar and Rosalind Helderman were online earlier today to answer readers' questions about the Virginia governor's race, and Bob McDonnell's graduate school thesis specifically. Excerpts follow.

Arlington, Va.: Thank you for taking my question. I want to know if McDonnell is still a practicing Catholic.

His controversial thesis from Regent University has really opened my eyes. As a Catholic I am extremely offended by the anti-Catholic rhetoric of Pat Robertson and his ilk over at Regent University. This thesis has opened up a whole new angle to the gubernatorial race that I am very concerned about. Governor's Race Erupts Over McDonnell's Past Views (Post, Sept. 1)

Anita Kumar: Thanks for the question. Yes, McDonnell is a practicing Catholic and talks frequents about how important his faith is to him. He attends church weekly. At Regent University, he was sole Catholic in his graduating class. He would the state's second Catholic governor, if elected, after Gov. Tim Kaine.

Prescott, Ariz.: I have found this fascinating. How does McDonnell get over the fact that part of his thesis discusses how his reactionary views aren't truly popular, therefore someone like himself must tone them down until they achieve true power, then they must ignore the populace and reveal their true hard-right ideology in governance? Seems to me that claiming he isn't a hard-right Christian Dominionist is just what he wrote he would have to do to get elected.

Roz Helderman: Thanks for reading. It is indeed the case that McDonnell writes in the 1989 thesis about what kind of public message socially conservative candidates must put forward to make them acceptable to the public. You raise an interesting conundrum for him in how to respond. What he has so far said is that many of his views, particularly about working women, have changed since he wrote the thesis 20 years ago. It will be for voters to decide if they believe him.

Arlington, Va.: Good job documenting what most of us who deal with the Virginia legislature and administration have long known -- McDonnell is very socially conservative. His attempts to portray himself otherwise during this campaign demonstrate that he realizes this is a weakness.

Anita Kumar: Democrats have long accused McDonnell of trying to moderate his views in the last few years as has run statewide -- first for attorney general and now for governor. He does not talk about abortion or other social issues that he was known for in the General Assembly but issues like education, energy and the environment.

Arlington, Va: Some conservatives have told me that this thesis thing is just another example of the Post sandbagging a conservative, pretty much as it did by harping on George Allen's macaca moment. How did the Post manage to dredge this up anyway?

Roz Helderman: Bob McDonnell mentioned the thesis in a recent interview. He told our colleague Amy Gardner that he had written about welfare reform. She was curious to see what he had to say and so went looking for it. It is available to the public at Regent's library.

New York: Does McDonnell have any daughters? Any gay staffers or friends? Just wondering what they say about all this. Thanks.

Roz Helderman: McDonnell has three daughters and two sons. Both of his two older daughters work--his eldest was an Army platoon commander in Iraq. He has pointed to his support for his working daughters (and wife)as evidence that he is not troubled by women in the workplace.

Prince William Co.: Jeff Frederick posted this on Twitter earlier today: "Should a candidate be judged on what he wrote when he was 34? Personally, I don't know, but he judged me on what I said when I was 33..."

Anita Kumar: I don't know exactly what your question is here. But yes, I did see that Jeff Frederick, a member of the House of Delegates from Prince William County, sent this statement out via Twitter. What Frederick said has some merit but is not the full story. As many of you may know, Frederick was the chairman of the state GOP in Virginia until he was removed in April after he was accused of a series of financial missteps, internal disagreements and political gaffes. He was not removed for making one particular comment or expressing one particular view, according to State Central Committee members who voted on the change. McDonnell and many of the party's other political leaders called for Frederick to step aside.

New York: Not that I'm in the habit of defending conservative politicians, but this paper is 20 years old. Isn't it important to know how he has conducted himself in his recent public endeavors? That information, however, warranted a brief paragraph lower in the story. My question would be, what has he been putting into practice? Thanks.

Anita Kumar: I both are important and the Washington Post will continue to explore both. This particular article was about his thesis but included information about his record after he was elected to the House of Delegates. We will be writing more articles about his record. But writing about the thesis is valid for a couple reasons -- he was an adult at the time this was written and because his critics have long accused him of turning his back on his conservative views when he decided to run for statewide office.

Washington, D.C.: Has there been any backlash against McDonnell for turning away from his conservative ideology after this article came out?

Roz Helderman: There have been a few conservatives expressing some, so far mild, displeasure with McDonnell for some of his responses. Still, Republicans have lost several statewide elections in a row in Virginia and are hungry for a win. Many conservatives, even if privately displeased with some of his rhetoric, may continue to support McDonnell enthusiastically in hopes of getting the GOP back in the governor's mansion.

Herndon, VA: Do you think it possible that the academic environment has a profound effect on the student?

Regent's is a very conservative environment and this thesis puts forth some very extreme views on family that might only be endorsed at that place. Harvard and Duke which are extremely liberal institutions have put forth extreme views of family completely opposite and probably equally outside the mainstream.

My point is we that it is possible that once outside the constricted atmosphere of Regent that his views really did change in accord with the real world in which he campaigned and legislated and practised law?

Roz Helderman: That's absolutely possible and is somewhat similar to what McDonnell has said about his own views. It's worth noting, of course, that at age 34, McDonnell moved his family across the country because he was seeking out the education offered at what was then called CBN, after the Christian Broadcasting Network. And he certainly remains proud of his connection to Regent.

Read the full discussion.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  September 1, 2009; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Anita Kumar , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Deeds Continues to Push McDonnell Thesis
Next: McDonnell Unveils Proposal, Avoids Thesis Talk


seriously- anyone who has worked on a campaign knows these chat sessions are full of... shocker... staffers writing questions in. or hard core volunteers. so many of these are obvious plants it's a bit ridiculous.

Posted by: ChrisD4 | September 1, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Roz Helderman: That's absolutely possible and is somewhat similar to what McDonnell has said about his own views. It's worth noting, of course, that at age 34, McDonnell moved his family across the country because he was seeking out the education offered at what was then called CBN, after the Christian Broadcasting Network. And he certainly remains proud of his connection to Regent.

***I don't think Helderman's comment is completely honest. McDonnell after leaving the Army wanted to come back to he and his wife's native Virginia. He did not move his family across country to specifically go to CBN but to get back to Virginia.

At 34, it is not as easy to get into tertiary/law schools, especially on a fast track. My Dad went to undergrad and law school after he left the military as well. At the time, University of MD only admitted new students to the Law School during fall term. Dad graduated from UMd mid-year and instead enrolled at American University's Washington College of Law because at that time they did accept new students into Spring semester. He was 35 when he graduated.

McDonnell probably faced some of the same issues that my Dad did as an older student on a fast track. CBN may have been the only school in VA which would accept him at that time. Why not ask McDonnell instead of the reporters, anyway?

BTW, Rasmussen new polling on the VA Gov race came out this morning (poll taken yesterday) and McDonnell is still far ahead.

Posted by: auntpittypat | September 2, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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