Martin O'Malley, Bob McDonnell debate jobs, GOP campaigns

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell debated Sunday about how economic and social issues are playing out in the presidential race.

O'Malley, who is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, and McDonnell, who heads the Republican Governors Association, were asked about the subjects during an appearance on "Meet the Press."

O'Malley, who has made frequent appearances on Sunday television talk shows to highlight Democratic initiatives and President Barack Obama's policies, said Republican candidates are more interested in GOP politics than the economy.

"If you look at the presidential campaign, I mean let's be honest, there has been a lot more time spent pandering to the extreme right-wing ideologues of the new Republican Party than has been spent talking about jobs and the economy," O'Malley said.

The discussion came ahead of two Republican presidential primary contests set for Tuesday - Mississippi and Alabama. Polls show a close race, particularly in Alabama, between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

But McDonnell said he thinks Democrats are just trying to shift attention away from jobs, the economy and the nation's debt by focusing on social issues, because the nation is still struggling economically.

"I think that's a manufactured issue," McDonnell said. "I think the Democrats and this president are trying to do everything they can to take the issue off of jobs, the economy, debt, deficit, energy - because they don't have a plan."

McDonnell was asked by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory about a bill in Virginia that would have required women who seek abortions to undergo vaginally invasive ultrasound exams. The measure prompted protests in Richmond and drew national attention. McDonnell ended up having the bill amended to mandate external ultrasounds in which a wand is passed over a women's abdomen, but critics still said the state has no business meddling in such medical decisions.

McDonnell said on the program Sunday that it was one bill out of many others that were focused on jobs, economic development and education. He said the focus of this election is not on social issues like the ultrasound issue.

"When people go into this voting booth in November, they're going to look at who's got the best vision to create jobs, who's got the best idea to get us out of debt, and this constant focus on social issues is largely coming from the Democrats," McDonnell said.

McDonnell also criticized proposals backed by O'Malley in Maryland to raise a variety of taxes, including ones on gasoline.

"I'm worried about the war of the administration - of some Democratic governors - on the American taxpayer," McDonnell said. "More taxes, more spending, more debt."

O'Malley described issues like the ultrasound proposal in Virginia and the debate over funding of contraception as cultural debates that are distracting from the nation's larger economic problems.

"All of these things that take us back are not strengthening our economy and creating jobs," O'Malley said.