Va. Democrat Candidates Target Gun Control in 4th Debate

April 30, 2009

(AP) - Gun control shot to the forefront of the fourth Democratic Virginia gubernatorial debate Wednesday less than a mile from the deadliest campus shooting in American history.

State Sen. R Creigh Deeds, former Democratic national chairman
Terry McAuliffe and former House of Delegates Democratic Caucus
leader Brian Moran all agreed on closing the loophole in state law
that exempts private sellers at gun shows from performing
background checks on buyers.

They clashed for the second time in as many days in a restored
theater in Blacksburg, a short walk to the scene of the worst mass
shooting in U.S. history in April 2007. Moran said every gun buyer
should have to face the same checks that federally licensed gun
dealers must perform regardless of venue.

"Anyone who purchases a firearm should go through a background
check. You can't determine whether a person is a felon or suffers
from a mental defect," Moran said.

McAuliffe agreed, saying the private dealers who sell a wide
array of guns from antiques to assault weapons at the bazaars
should be required to query the past of purchasers.

Both Moran and McAuliffe are from the populous suburbs of
northern Virginia where gun control sentiment runs strong.

Moran pointed to Deeds, the only candidate from rural Virginia,
and noted that he voted earlier this month to override Democratic
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's veto of a bill that allows people with
concealed weapons permits into bars.

The candidates also clashed over gay marriage and clean coal.

In a venue near Virginia's coal-mining western mountains, Deeds
said the need for domestic energy is too pressing to write off coal
and called for clean-coal research.

"The truth is right now, coal provides 50 percent of our
electricity. It's not going to go away overnight. People aren't
going to decide to turn off their air conditioners," Deeds said.

Like McAuliffe, he said he had not committed to support the 1.5
gigawatt plant in Surry, but added that more research is needed
before he rules it out.

Moran dismissed them both, saying there was plenty of research
and that it was clear coal can't be made clean.

"Pandering is not leadership," Moran said. "You can't be for
clean energy and support a coal-fired power plant, which is what
you have heard from my two opponents."

Asked about gay marriage and civil unions, McAuliffe said he
supported contractual spousal rights for same-sex couples, but said
it would not be a priority for him if elected governor.

"You know, a governor makes time," Moran responded, lecturing
McAuliffe. Moran is the only candidate who supports gay marriage
and promised to repeal the 2006 state constitutional amendment that
banned it in Virginia.

"One of the darkest days of my legislative career was when that
marriage amendment passed. I did everything I could on the floor of
the House of Delegates to defeat it," he said to applause from the

Deeds acknowledged he supported the amendment, saying marriage
should be between one man and one woman. Then he wheeled on Moran.

"But in 2004, when it was a federal resolution introduced by
Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli, Brian, you voted for it and
against it," Deeds noted. McDonnell is unchallenged for the
Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Moran was one of 82 House members on March 10, 2004, to vote for final passage of a resolution urging Congress to protect
heterosexual marriage.

As the debate progressed, hundreds listened to a live stream
online, and hundreds of responses poured in to questioners from
people using the social networking site Twitter.

It's the first time, at least in Virginia, that online partisan voices and activists who played prominent roles in recent Democratic triumphs have hosted a debate at this level.

Sponsors include the Huffington Post and Virginia Tech's
Collegiate Times and political blogs Not Larry Sabato and Fire Dog

And they catch the candidates the day after their liveliest and
most contentious encounter yet heading into the June 9 Democratic
primary. Given the chance to question one another directly, all
three dredged up pieces of their rivals' past.

All three hope to win an advantage with volunteers, opinion leaders and donors critical in a nomination fight.

Online support was an afterthought for campaigns in Virginia
until 2005. That year, northern Virginia blogger Lowell Feld
founded RaisingKaine, that, as its name implied, was an ally of
Democrat Timothy M. Kaine's successful campaign for governor.

Real respect didn't come, however, until Feld and Not Larry
Sabato's Ben Tribbett and others launched an online movement to
draft Republican-turned-Democrat Jim Webb for the 2006 U.S. Senate
race against George Allen, an incumbent widely thought to have the
inside track to the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.

Not only were bloggers a factor in persuading Webb to make his
first run for elective office, they ensured that Allen's faux pas
of referring to a young man of Indian descent by the name
"macaca" at a campaign rally became a phenomenon and a key reason
behind his shocking defeat.

"Contrast this election with that (governor's) race four years
ago," Feld, who headed online organizing for Webb and now runs the
blog Blue Virginia, which favors McAuliffe.

"Back then, campaigns barely even communicated with bloggers.
We hardly ever heard from them," he said. "Now they're tweeting
with us, they're talking to us, they're sending us e-mail."

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