As Palin Robocalls in Virginia, McDonnell Keeps His Distance

By Gorman Gorman

Nov 2, 2009 12:21pm

Sarah Palin is robocalling in Virginia but the Republican candidate for governor is still not embracing her. My colleague, ABC News' Teddy Davis, has the story: Republican Bob McDonnell kept his distance from Sarah Palin on Monday even as the former Alaska governor had begun making automated phone calls to more than 300,000 Virginia households on behalf of a conservative group, urging them to vote their values in Tuesday's election. "I don't know anything about them," McDonnell told ABC News on Monday when asked about the Palin robocalls which are paid for by the Virginia chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a socially conservative group headed at the national level by Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. McDonnell, who answered a question from ABC News following a 7:45 am ET campaign stop in Alexandria, Va., has been carefully calibrating his relationship with Palin. After telling ABC's "Top Line" on July 7 that he thought Palin would be "a good spokesman" for his campaign based on what she had done on taxes, regulations, and ethics in Alaska, McDonnell has more recently kept his distance. On Oct. 9, Politico's Jonathan Martin reported that Palin was ready to stump for McDonnell and Chris Christie, the Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey. But neither Republican seemed interested in taking up her offer to help.  "The governor offered her assistance with both races," Palin adviser Meg Stapleton told Politico. "The ball is in their court." The McDonnell campaign eschewed Palin's help on the stump even though it welcomed other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Even though Palin's robocall is paid for by the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition rather than by McDonnell or the Republican Party, Democrats seized on her entrance into the race in the hopes of painting McDonnell, who enjoys an 11-point lead in a recent Washington Post poll, as immoderate. A key theme in the Democratic campaign has been that McDonnell, who has emphasized jobs, economic development, and bipartisanship in his campaign, is really a hard right social conservative because his 1989 graduate school thesis describes working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. "We're a bit surprised that Sarah Palin would back the so-called principles of a candidate who believes that working women – like herself – are a detriment to the family," DNC spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine told ABC News. "However, Palin's endorsement of Bob McDonnell's beliefs should give Virginia voters, who may have been fooled by a smoke and mirrors campaign into believing that McDonnell would govern their state as a moderate, serious pause as they prepare to head to the polls tomorrow."  "The candidate in this race with the principles most closely aligned with those of Virginians has always been and continues to be Creigh Deeds," she added, referring to the Democratic candidate. Virginia state Sen. Steve Martin (R), the chairman of the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition, told ABC News that the Palin call, which began on Sunday, is intended to reach somewhere between 346,000 and 396,000 Virginia households. The Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition put together the call list by matching up church lists with records of who had voted in recent elections. The targets included both high propensity and lower propensity voters. In addition to Palin, the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition has used Huckabee as well as local pastors to make robocalls to Virginia voters in advance of Tuesday's vote. The calls do not include an explicit appeal to vote for McDonnell, according to Sen. Martin, because his organization is prohibited as a 501(c)(4) organization from making a direct appeal for the election of a particular candidate. Asked to characterize the shared principles that Palin is hoping to promote, Sen. Martin said: "Those shared principles would certainly involve things all the way from how money is collected to how it is spent to the value of human life." "Economic liberty and religious liberty go hand in hand," he added. During his prepared remarks at Monday's rally, McDonnell emphasized local economic initiatives that he wants to pursue while also continuing to portray a handful of Democratic proposals in Washington as being harmful to Virginia's economy. "I hope the reason you are here is that you understand that we have some hard times that we're facing in Virginia," said McDonnell. "A 6.7 percent unemployment rate, a $6 billion budget deficit, rising energy prices, college tuition doubling, and other challenges that the next leadership team has got to address." Referring to himself as well as the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and Attorney General, McDonnell said: "This team . . .  understand(s) that it is not through more federal government solutions like card check and cap-and-trade and unfunded mandates and nationalized health care and major new deficit spending, that is not what's going to be the key to turning this economy around." "It's going to be more private sector solutions, more innovation, more entrepreneurship, more small business, more freedom for more people to use their God given talents to pursue the American dream," he added. While McDonnell avoided reading national meaning into Tuesday's election, his daughter cast it as an opportunity for voters in the Old Dominion to send a "message" about the Obama administration. "Well, as you all know, this is a huge election," said Jeanine McDonnell, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who served in Iraq. "It's being watched nationally. This is what they look to, to see the first reaction to the current administration, so we have a message to send tomorrow, now don't we? But we also know that this election is about Virginia. It's about getting Virginia back on the right track." Here is the script of Palin's Virginia robocall: PALIN: "Virginia, hello, this is Sarah Palin, calling to urge you to go to the polls Tuesday and vote to share our principles. The eyes of America will be on Virginia and make no mistake about it, every vote counts. So don't take anything for granted, vote your values on Tuesday, and urge your friends and family to vote, too. Thank you." ANNOUNCER: "Paid for by the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition."
ABC News' Brittany Crockett contributed to this report.

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