Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Bob McDonnell stressed the importance of youth involvement in politics and pointedly avoided mentioning the controversy that has erupted over conservative beliefs exposed in his college thesis during a speech in the Marvin Center on Wednesday night.
McDonnell's campaign against Democrat Creigh Deeds garnered national attention this week after the Republican's college thesis, written 20 years ago, revealed he held discriminatory views against working women, feminists and homosexuals. He has since distanced himself from the beliefs, telling The Washington Post, "like everybody, my views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older."
McDonnell, who served 14 years in the Virginia General Assembly, did mention an idea of using working mothers, who he criticized as "detrimental" to families in his thesis, to help the government become user-friendly.
"My wife has convinced me when I'm elected governor we're going to have a working mom government simplicity task force so all the smart women in Virginia can help tell me how to run Virginia," McDonnell said. "[They will] help cut down some of that bureaucracy, I think that would be a good idea."
When asked by a member of the media after the speech, McDonnell said he proposed that idea to his team before his thesis was brought to light.
The event, which served as the College Republicans kickoff event, included a call to action where McDonnell laid out his hopes for student involvement in the political process and repeating the economic goals he has focused on in his campaign.
"We are making the heart and soul of this campaign for governor of Virginia to be a focus on economic development and opportunity so more young people like you can live to pursue the American Dream," McDonnell said.
In addition, McDonnell highlighted his desire to make Virginia "the energy capital of the East Coast" by increasing the percentage of energy derived from nuclear power and offshore drilling. McDonnell emphasized his belief that America needs a comprehensive energy policy, including green energy options.
Using technology such as Facebook, Twitter and text messaging, the campaign has sought to appeal to the younger generation of voters, particularly college students.
"The reason we will win this election, and I mean this with all my heart, is you," he said to start off his speech.
Freshman John Bennett said he was encouraged by McDonnell's energy policies.
"I'm really happy he focused on using more nuclear energy. It often gets overlooked. Even in our freshman summer reading, it talked about how we need a green revolution, but it left out the nuclear options. I'm glad McDonnell stressed [those options]," Bennett said.
Education, another main campaign issue for McDonnell, can be improved by focusing on including more math, science, engineering and technology in school curriculums, the candidate said.
"We need to make it cool to be a geek again," McDonnell said. "We are not keeping pace with the demand for engineers and scientists and that is bad long-term for the United States of America."
College Republicans at the event were encouraged by the high turnout, which was at capacity in the Marvin Center's Grand Ballroom.
"McDonnell did a good job energizing the audience. Getting everybody here, including a bunch of new freshmen, is great. Hopefully now we can get them on the campaign trail," sophomore Noreen Kassam said.
Senior James Barnes, chairman of the D.C. Federation of College Republicans, expressed similar sentiments.
"[McDonnell] is a guy who gets the crowd on their feet and inspires people. We've had an amazing response. I've never seen this many people at a College Republicans event, with the exception of maybe one or two events, in the four years I've been here. It's really incredible, it couldn't have gone better," he said.
After the event, McDonnell continued to emphasize the importance college students will play in the election.
"[The audience] was outstanding. We've been to a lot of college campuses and I can't think of another campus where we've had 200 College Republicans that have come out to help us," he said. "I'm thrilled with this turnout.