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Excerpts: Post Reporter, Fundraising Expert Take Your Questions

Washington Post staff writer Amy Gardner and David Poole, executive director of Campaign Finance for the Virginia Public Access Project, were online today to discuss the Virginia governor's race between Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R) and the candidates' campaign financing. Excerpts follow. Read the full transcript here.

Charlottesville, Va.: Has the recession played much of a role in fundraising this year for Deeds and McDonnell? What about in the down-ticket races?

David Poole: Yes, the recession seems to be a factor. We know this anecdotally from talking to political fundraisers. People who are worth $25 million don't feel rich because, well, last year they were worth $50. We've seen this in the numbers, too. Here is a chart showing the trends in spending for the last few gubernatorial cycles.

You can see things have been on a fast-growth pace. You can ignore this year, because the numbers are preliminary. But through August 31, the amount raised by McDonnell-Deeds was less than raised four years ago at this point by Kilgore-Kaine.

Northern Virginia: A lot of people I know are voting straight party line (either party) on the top three state races, then most of course are voting for their incumbent delegate regardless of party, because they know the incumbent. That would make this race all about turnout.

One possible exception I've been wondering about is the Shannon-Cuccinelli race. Any chance Shannon could outperform the other Dems? Cuccinelli is not as good at hiding his hard-right roots as some other candidates, as with his recent anti-Obama sneer.

David Poole: You are correct to assume that the biggest factor in the Attorney General and Lt. Governor races is the performance of the candidates at the top of the ticket. Recent Virginia history has examples of one down-ticket candidate bucking the trends. Jerry Kilgore (AG) in 2001; Don Beyer (Lt. Gov) in 1993.

Washington, D.C.: Why has Deeds gone back to negative campaigning again and again? The attack on the 2-plus decade-old thesis had not moved independent voters toward him a bit. It may help the liberal base, but what about the middle?

Amy Gardner: I think there was probably some value to the Deeds campaign's decision to highlight the thesis after The Washington Post published an article about it at the end of August. Polls in September showed that McDonnell's lead had narrowed significantly, particularly among women, following the Deeds thesis media blitz. In focus groups especially, the effect of the thesis on women's views of McDonnell was profound (and negative). However, it's possible that Deeds put too many of his eggs in this basket? It became pretty clear to many observers that Deeds needed to spend some time away from the thesis and talking more about his own agenda to govern. He has not done that as much as some Democrats had hoped, and newer polls seem to reflect that with widespread views that Deeds is too negative and widespread sentiment that McDonnell has a better message on virtually every major issue of the day -- transportation, the economy, even education, which is typically a strong suit for Democrats.

Richmond, Va.: Who's getting more money (dollar amount in total donations) from outside Virginia? Deeds or McDonnell?

David Poole: These numbers are dated and will be supplanted by the campaign finance reports for September that are due tomorrow.

But these are the numbers through from 1/1/2006 through 8/31/2009:

Virginia: Deeds -- 68 percent; McDonnell -- 57 percent
DC/Maryland: Deeds -- 30 percent; McDonnell -- 30 percent
Other states: Deeds -- 2 percent; McDonnell -- 13 percent

Centreville, Va.: David, Virginia's ethics laws are built upon the principle of full disclosure while not prohibiting any sort of contributions. In your opinion, is there an area of the law that needs to be strengthened to ensure full disclosure in the area of campaign finance and other related ethics laws? What can Virginia due to ensure that the system in place provides proper accountability on candidates, officeholders, lobbyists, and state employees?

David Poole: Just to make clear, VPAP is not in the business of advocating for "tougher" laws. Our role is simply to make sure the public has access to the information that is disclosed. All we ask is the information make sense.

That said, we've seen a trend in recent years where candidates and committees (in certain circumstances) are required to provide more immediate disclosure. In some cases with in 24 hours of receipt of certain donations. As people get used to receiving information in a steady stream, I wonder if the General Assembly might rethink how most of campaign finance information is currently disclosed -- in periodic reports that have major lag time (more than two weeks) between the end of a filing period and when the information is disclosed.

Fairfax County, Va.: I was interested that the peculiar anti-Deeds (or shall I say pro-MacAuliffe) article in the New York Times yesterday attracted such a slew of Deeds defenders in the comments -- and also that Robert McCartney, in his Tuesday chat for the Post, initially had to beg for some pro-McDonnell folks to write in, since he was getting so many comments friendly to Deeds.

Do you think the sleeping giant of the Virginia Democratic electorate is finally waking up? Perhaps due to Monday's debate, Dems are feeling a little more energized to me.

washingtonpost.com: Second Thoughts in Battle for Virginia (The New York Times, Oct. 13)

Amy Gardner: This is an interesting question. Certainly Deeds would love for concern over a Democratic defeat to motivate voters in the final three weeks. I'm not so sure I'm seeing those signs, however. The pro-Deeds bent of those who chatted with Bob McCartney is probably more a reflection of the fact that Republicans perceive McCartney and the Washington Post in general as biased toward Democrats. In other words, I wouldn't take that as a measure of the overall electorate. As for Adam Nagourney's piece in the NYT: Certainly there is buyer's remorse among Democratic activists about Deeds. But remember: hardcore activists were not prone to supports Deeds in the first place. He was the most conservative of the three Dems running in the primary (Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran being the others).

Arlington, Va.: Clearly the campaigns must have a lot of money even in challenging times. They have saturated TV with their stupid ads for weeks now. That can't be cheap. Do we know how much they are wasting...er, spending?

David Poole: It's hard to get an up-to-minute total for media spending. To do this, someone has to check with all the TV stations, which are required to disclose the amount spent on political ads. Unfortunately, there is no one doing this in a systematic way across Virginia.

The best number we have right now is $8.9 million. That was through August 31. You can see details here.

We'll know more tomorrow, when candidates release spending through September 30.

These numbers do not include spending by third-party groups.

Stone Ridge, Va.: Do you think Moran or McAuliffe would be faring better against McDonnell at this point?

Amy Gardner: This is the topic of endless speculation among Virginia Democrats these days. Both McAuliffe and Moran would have faced their own challenges. Moran ran a primary campaign to the left of both the others. As the national political environment has worsened for Democrats, he would have had a lot to answer for regarding Obama's national agenda on health care, cap and trade, card check and so on. McAuliffe would have faced a different set of challenges. A significant fundraiser for Democrats and business associate of McAuliffe's, Hassan Nemazee, was charged over the summer with operating a Ponzi scheme. McAuliffe has made millions in land deals and other business ventures that involved political relationships. We would have seen a lot of TV advertisements about those deals and relationships.

Midlothian, Va.: This race has gotten more national attention than other Virginia gubernatorial races in recent memory. Have you seen this reflected in where candidates have been raising money? Has more national money been flowing into Virginia this year than in 2005 and 2001? Are both national Democrats and Republicans giving, or has one side been contributing more than the other?

David Poole: Good question. Yes, we're seeing more out-of-state money flowing into this race so far compared to past years. The two parties are in an arms-race to outspend each other. Both sides have made claims to spend north of $5 million. We've also seen the rise in importance of money from so-called 527 groups. These are groups that are not regulated by the Federal Elections Commission and can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals. Through August, donations from 527 groups accounted for 12 percent of total money raised -- compared to less than 1 percent at the some point four years ago.

Read the full discussion transcript.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  October 14, 2009; 3:42 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Amy Gardner , Brian J. Moran , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Robert F. McDonnell , Terry McAuliffe  
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