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The Democrats get ready for a primary

Democratic primaries in Virginia until very recently have been low turnout affairs.  Getting five percent of the registered voters to show up at the polls was considered an accomplishment.  Individual precincts would be happy to have forty voters by noon.
The Republicans, if they had a primary, usually did a bit better.  But, still, the turnouts were usually anemic.  
However, last year, the Democratic Presidential primary, once a backwater affair on the radar screen, suddenly became “the” primary to watch.  Thanks to a high profile, and aggressively fought Presidential race, over a million people, twenty percent, give or take of the Commonwealth’s registered voters turned out.  Some precincts actually had lines.  It was heady stuff for Virginia Democrats.  
This year, they have another primary.  They’re going to select their candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.  This isn’t nearly as exciting as a Presidential Primary, but now that a large number of voters know there is such a thing, and what’s more, given the state Democratic Party’s resurgence, the primary is going to be a much bigger deal than it has been in the past.
Most significantly there is going be a hotly contested race for the Democratic nomination for Governor.  The Democrats, now used to winning in Virginia, are awash with candidates.  That can be a good thing.  It raises interest in the party and gears up the political machinery, but it also comes with a down side.  
The party, inevitably, at least for a little while, breaks into factions and does battle with itself.  That’s just the way primaries work.  One of the candidates said this was healthy.  He may be right, but anything that divides a party six months before the election, while perhaps raising the party’s profile, brings with it some risk as well.
There are currently two declared candidates for the Democratic nomination.  Perhaps the one who has the biggest edge at the moment is Delegate Brian Moran.  He is the Democratic Caucus Chairman in the House of Delegates.  
He is young, cheerful, animated, knows the issues, and has already racked up a long list of endorsements from party chairs from all over the state.  That’s an impressive accomplishment so early in the race.
 Opposing him is a man who almost, by the scantest of margins, missed becoming Attorney General in 2005, State Senator Creigh Deeds.  He is a likeable candidate who has already run in a statewide campaign.  However, Moran’s high name recognition in Northern Virginia, the massive number of primary voters he can count on from the region, is a decisive edge.  He is probably the odds-on favorite at this point.
Ah, but nothing is ever that easy.  There is a wildcard.  Isn’t there always?  
And this time it’s Bill Clinton intimate and former Chair of the National Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe.  
McAuliffe is a Democrat’s Democrat, is well past the early, “gee, maybe I will run for Governor” and is now actively campaigning.  It’s a reasonable concern, however, that this liberal national Democrat, with limited roots in Virginia (can you say Carpetbagger?) may not be a fit with the decidedly moderate politics of the Commonwealth.  He can raise money, lots of it, and he can probably bring in some big names, but if he were to get the nomination he may be just the candidate the Republicans are hoping the Democrats will choose.
The formula, for any Democratic victory, is exactly the one the party has pulled together every year since they began their winning streak in 2005.  They need to carry the now, more or less solid Democratic counties in Northern Virginia by a landslide, pick up the D.C. exurbs, but not by as much, carry Hampton Roads, and hold their losses elsewhere to a minimum.  As they found in 2008, they can even do a little better than that.
The challenge for the Democrats in 2009 is to keep up that momentum.  In many ways, this may be a tougher year for them than any they have faced so far.  The Republicans have a team, Attorney General Bob McDonnell for Governor and Bill Bolling, who is running for reelection as Lieutenant Governor, in place and ready to go.  
Both men are well known and each has a campaign organization in place.  What’s more they face no nomination fights, no divisive battles during the primary or at a convention.  They’re set.  The Democrats by contrast are ready to begin a full scale knock down, drag out fight.  It may be civil, but while the Republicans are campaigning for the general election, the Democrats will be spending the first half of the year campaigning against each other.

David Kerr

 

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