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Are Virginia Democrats losing their momentum?

Virginia Democrats have been on a winning streak for several years now.  They won statewide in 2005, won again in 2006, did well in the House of Delegates and State Senate races in 2007, and knocked it out of the park in 2008 when the state turned blue for President Obama.  For many that would seem to signal that 2009 is likely to be yet another Democratic grand slam.
 But not so fast. That’s not the way things are shaping up and Creigh Deeds is having a surprisingly tough time of it.  
The most recent polls show him behind his opponent, former Attorney General Bob McDonnell.  Unlike past elections, when national forces helped the Democrats, this year, the political environment is a bit tougher.
For one thing there is a long standing conventional wisdom to overcome.  Namely that Virginians when casting their votes for Governor tend to vote for the candidate from the party other than the one that’s in the White House.  This has held true for 32 years.  Of course, this could be a long running coincidence.  Many think it is, but it could also be an unconscious desire on the part of the voters to create something of a balance between Washington and Richmond.  

 

 

However, more substantially, this year, national forces aren’t necessarily helping the Democrats.  Though Virginia, in a break with tradition, supported Obama for President in 2008, a year later there is considerable anxiety over the economy, the deficit and, most in the news at the moment, the President’s health care plan.  The Republicans know this and seem to be succeeding in transferring some of this voter angst to the Democratic nominee for Governor. Another concern for Deeds is Governor Tim Kaine.  In 2005, when Tim Kaine was a candidate for governor, the sitting governor, Mark Warner, was a major asset to the Democratic campaign.  Warner was popular and had a following from both Democrats and Republicans.  Warner worked hard to transfer some of this goodwill to his successor and it helped a great deal.  However, this year Kaine, the outgoing Governor, doesn’t come with the same popularity.  It’s even possible that the Governor could be a drag on Deed’s campaign.  
Tim Kaine, while a competent governor, isn’t Mark Warner.  And what’s more there have been some recent controversies that haven’t helped his reputation.  First of all there was his reluctance to turn over his travel records.  This was of interest because it would have shown just how much time he was spending out of state carrying out the duties of what he describes as his “part time job” as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  He eventually agreed to release the travel records, but not until the whole business had become an embarrassment.
But that’s not all.  There has also been his handling of the federal request for transportation projects to be funded by President Obama’s stimulus.  Virginia is desperately short of transportation funds, but the state was the last state to submit its requests.  But then, to add insult to injury, the Governor decided to close 19 of 43 interstate rest stops.  While he is facing a serious budget gap, there is still a perception that the governor’s decision was done for show.  
By themselves none of these concerns are all that serious. But they have led to a growing frustration with Kaine’s performance and that’s not good news for the Democrat who is seeking to replace him.
Deeds, while probably concerned, outwardly at least, doesn’t seem that worried.  He has been aggressively raising money and plans an intense fall campaign.  He figures that once the public gets to know him, and once he starts focusing on Virginia issues, they will prefer him over McDonnell.  After all, Deeds has a long reputation of running come from behind campaigns.  However, at the moment, the Republicans, thanks to the national turn of opinion, a capable candidate of their own, and a few missteps on the part of the Governor, are running strong.

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