VIRGINIA BEACH - Sen. John McCain on Saturday sought to build support within Hampton Roads' considerable contingent of military voters on behalf of GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell.
In a speech before a crowd of a few hundred at a Virginia Beach VFW post, McCain denounced the $1.4 trillion U.S. federal deficit and praised McDonnell as a fiscal hawk. He framed the race as a national bellwether that will set the direction of the country. Virginia is one of two states to select a governor this year in what could be a "very close election," McCain said.
The Arizona Republican, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee and a Vietnam War POW, is the latest in a procession of national political celebrities to trek to Virginia with just over two weeks until the Nov. 3 election. President Obama is expected to return to the Commonwealth later this month to stump for McDonnell's Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds.
McCain took aim at the Deeds campaign, warning that "negative campaigns don't work in Virginia." Deeds has spent much of the race denouncing McDonnell as a social extremist, focusing especially on the Republican's 1989 masters thesis, which criticized gays, and working women.
"I've seen the ads night after night, I've seen the attacks on his character," McCain said. "They're wrong, and the people of Virginia will reject that kind of campaigning."
The event was a far cry from the arena-sized crowds that gathered to watch McCain during the 2008 election, but it allowed him to speak directly to a constituency of active duty military and veterans that make up one of the most reliable GOP voter bases. Virginia is home to more than 800,000 veterans, who are being courted heavily by both campaigns.
McDonnell, a former U.S. Army officer, promised to make Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in the nation and to streamline the process of receiving benefits.