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Lieutenant Governor and Governor
In 1977, Robb won election as a Democrat for the lieutenant governorship of Virginia. He served as lieutenant governor from 1978 to 1982 and as governor from 1982 to 1986. In the 1977 election, Robb was the only of three Democrats running for statewide office to win that year, leaving him as the sole head of a political party that had not won a governor's race in a dozen years. Four years later in 1981, Robb led all three Democrats into office by appealing to conservatives who were disenchanted with his opponent's maverick style. Virginia Democrats again won all three statewide offices in 1985, which was viewed as an endorsement of Robb's leadership while in office. As a campaigner, Robb was capable but reserved. During a time when political communication styles were beginning to favor sound bites, Robb was known for speaking in paragraphs about complex policy issues. He was also noteworthy among his contemporaries for raising substantial sums of campaign funds.
Politically, Robb was a moderate, but known as a conservative Democrat. As governor, he balanced the state budget without raising taxes, and dedicated an additional $1 billion for education. He appointed a record number of women and minorities to state positions, including the first African American to the state Supreme Court. He was the first Virginia governor in 25 years to use the death penalty. Robb was instrumental in creating the Super Tuesday primary that brought political power to the Southern states. He was also a co-founder in creating the Democratic Leadership Council. He was a strong vote-getter in Virginia in the 1980s and helped mold a more progressive Virginia Democratic Party than the one that had ruled the state for decades.
1992 Presidential Campaign
Robb had been mentioned as a possible presidential or vice presidential candidate in 1988, but chose to wait until 1992 instead, when he emerged out of a crowded field to defeat both Paul Tsongas and Mario Cuomo in the New Hampshire primary. After Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas dropped out following accusations of an affair with Paula Jones, Robb secured the Democratic nomination and went on to win the election with fellow Southerner Tennessee Senator Al Gore as his running mate.
As President, Robb tended to take the same moderate course he had followed as Governor. He supported "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but also supported an assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill. He also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement into law. In 1995, Robb was able to avoid a government shutdown in a deal with House Republicans. He was reelected in 1996 over the Republican ticket of Dick Cheney/George W. Bush.
One of the more notable events learned involved Vice President Al Gore and a fund-raising event held at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. The Temple event was organized by DNC fund-raisers John Huang and Maria Hsia. It is illegal under U.S. law for religious organizations to donate money to politicians or political groups due to their tax-exempt status. The U.S. Justice Department alleged Hsia facilitated $100,000 in illegal contributions to the 1996 Robb-Gore re-election campaign through her efforts at the Temple. Hsia was eventually convicted by a jury in March 2000. The DNC eventually returned the money donated by the Temple's monks and nuns. Twelve nuns and employees of the Temple refused to answer questions by pleading the Fifth Amendment when they were subpoenaed to testify before Congress in 1997.
Robb was more successful with his domestic agenda, which included the passage of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, passed through the efforts of Senator Bill Clinton, who had managed to put the allegations of the Paula Jones affair behind him and win election to the Senate in the 1994 midterms, helping the Democrats keep their majority while the Republicans took control of the House. Robb was also able to sign a modified version of Senator Clinton's health care reform plan, widely known as "Clinton Care" into law. Robb took an aggressive stance during the war in Kosovo with heavy participation by U.S. troops in the NATO campaign to end ethnic cleansing in the region and invited newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat together at the 2000 Camp David Summit. These negotiations proved unsuccessful, however.
The Elián González affair took prominent stage during early 2000. When his family fled from communist Cuba, the boy survived a boat wreck but his mother died, setting off an international legal fight for where the boy should stay. Eventually the administration, via Janet Reno, had González returned to Cuba. Robb remained popular with the public throughout his two terms as President, ending his presidential career with a 65% approval rating, the highest end-of-term approval rating of any President since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Robb also benefited from a boom of the US economy. Under Robb, the United States had a projected federal budget surplus for the first time since 1969.