- Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 16:26
- Published on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 16:26
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By David S. Kerr
At several points during the recent campaign for the femocratic nomination for governor, State Senator Creigh Deeds was all but written off. Some suggested it might be best if he dropped out. Others thought maybe it would be better if he ran for attorney general again instead. But Deeds, who had been running for governor for most of the past four years, would have none of that. He was in this race to the end. And what’s more, while others ignored him and assumed he would come in a distant third, he saw a different ending to this campaign. He thought he was going to win and based on last week's results it looks like he was right.
There were three candidates in this primary: Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton intimate; Brian Moran, a popular former delegate from Alexandria; and Deeds. McAuliffe had money and Moran had connections and a good organization. They were both vigorous campaigners. Until the very end, it looked one of those two was on his way to the nomination. But something happened on the way to the polling booth. McAuliffe, figuring Moran was his principal adversary, and reasonably assured he was fighting for the party’s liberal base, kept pushing Moran on liberal issues. The exchange got heated and Moran, by necessity, had to do his best to “out liberal” McAuliffe.
This gradual movement to the left began to worry Democratic voters. While many were more philosophically in tune with Moran or McAuliffe, their overriding concern was to put another Democrat in the governor’s mansion. Warner and Kaine were popular, but they were also moderate. At some level, in something of a collective “group think,” thousands of Democrats decided, almost at the exact same time, that the most electable candidate in the fall would be the moderate, Creigh Deeds. Almost overnight, the polls that had been tracking him as pulling up the rear put him in first place. On election night he managed, in a three way race, to garner almost 50% of the vote. It was a stunning victory.
The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato suggested on election night that Creigh Deeds was probably the candidate that Republican nominee, Bob McDonnell, least wanted to run against. To win, McDonnell knows he needs to capture those voters, the ones the Democrats have managed to win over in several consecutive elections, the ones who consider themselves independent.
This would have been easier if McDonnell had been facing a traditional liberal. He could have counted on his party’s conservative base and, by painting his opponent as an out of touch liberal, successfully courted the moderate vote. However, with Deeds, that’s not going to be so easy. The Democratic candidate’s moderate credentials are solid. He may not be as liberal on some issues as the core Democratic base would like, but it’s not like these voters are going to support the Republican. Also, Deeds, even though he represents a rural area, hundreds of miles from the Washington, D.C, suburbs, has consistently supported state funded improvements to the region’s transportation system. This is going to prove a valuable edge for Deeds in the fall.
It’s ironic that this election is going to be a repeat of the attorney general’s race in 2005. In that election, Deeds and McDonnell ran against each other in one of the closest elections in Virginia history. McDonnell won by about 300 votes. During the ’05 election, Deeds was outspent by roughly 2-1. However, much like during the primary, people began to warm to him and he experienced a last-minute surge. It was quite enough of a surge to carry him over the top. This time, no doubt, Deeds is hoping for a different outcome.
Also, during this election cycle, unlike 2005, it’s unlikely Deeds will be hurting for cash. The Democrats, anxious to keep up Virginia’s trend toward the Democrats. They hope to prove the result of the 2008 election wasn’t a fluke, and are going to put a lot of money into Virginia. Tim Kaine in particular, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a close friend of the president, isn’t anxious to see the Democratic trend in his state reversed. He is going to do everything he can to see Deeds is his successor.
At the same token, while this isn’t an easy race for McDonnell, he is a good candidate. He was a strong law and order attorney general. He is a former Army officer and a longtime resident of Northern Virginia. He is fiercely competitive, and national Republicans, hoping to reverse what seems to be a continuing erosion of their national support, want some good news. Winning Virginia would be just the tonic to raise their spirits and help them get ready for 2010.
This will likely be one of the most expensive elections in Virginia’s history. The ads, the fliers and the phone calls will be non-stop. But that’s to be expected. Both sides have a lot riding on the outcome.