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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

McDonnell Ad Cites Praise, Leaves Out Criticism

More on that governor’s race in Virginia: Bob McDonnell, the GOP candidate and the former state attorney general, is running an ad that’s meant to bathe his "comprehensive transportation plan" in a warm glow. Ironically, though, the ad’s only reference for its claims is an editorial from the Washington Post in July that devotes far more space to criticizing McDonnell’s plan than to praising it.

Part of the ad – the portion that cites the Post‘s critique of state Sen. Creigh Deeds’ transportation plan – is outdated: Last week, Deeds – McDonnell’s Democratic opponent – posted a much more detailed transportation proposal on his Web site. He also penned an op-ed piece about it that appeared in the Post on Sept. 23. The Post’s editorialists immediately weighed in, praising Deeds for having the "political guts" to commit to raising taxes to deal with the state’s transportation woes; in the same piece, the Post slammed what it called McDonnell’s "smoke-and-mirrors, wing-and-a-prayer approach." None of this, of course, is in the ad, and a spokeswoman for McDonnell’s campaign said the spot is scheduled to run through the first week in October, though that could change.

A breakdown in transportation funding and a desperate need for more and improved roads in the traffic-choked Northern Virginia suburbs makes this one of the state’s most pressing issues, and no candidate can expect to be elected governor without addressing it. The earlier Post commentary did say that McDonnell’s transportation plan "deserves credit for the extent and specificity of its proposals," but it also criticized many of those very details. For instance, the paper wrote that "[McDonnell] acknowledges that current funding sources are inadequate and proposes some new ones," but said, "[u]nfortunately, the new revenue he identifies is one-time-only, many years distant or paltry. And he does not explain how, in the absence of credible, reliable new funding, he would wring out more cash for roads without harming other crucial state functions and services." The Post said McDonnell’s plan to sell state liquor stores to help fund highway and railway projects, which he highlights in the ad, was "a fine idea in principle, and one that might produce a one-time windfall of $500 million for roads, but it would also deprive the state of millions of dollars in annual income for substance abuse clinics and other programs." The Post, in fact, accused McDonnell of not being forthright with viewers:

Washington Post editorial, July 29: If Mr. McDonnell wants to shortchange education, public safety and health to pay for roads, let him say so clearly and honestly.

We suspect the McDonnell campaign was wearing its selective-vision goggles when it cut this ad.