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Legacy Content / POLITISCOPE

Deeds' Win Muddies The Waters For GOP

Republicans Wanted McDonnell To Face McAuliffe In Bellwether Virginia Gubernatorial Race

June 10, 2009

State Sen. Creigh Deeds' come-from-behind thumpin' Tuesday in the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary offers a number of valuable lessons -- inside and outside the Old Dominion. Here's a sampling of what Tuesday's vote meant, in Virginia and beyond:

Deeds vs. McDonnell, Take 2: The Democrat's victory sets up a rematch of the 2005 race for attorney general, which Deeds lost to Republican Bob McDonnell by 323 votes. But this race will be different. In 2005, the two sparred mostly below the radar, on issues of law and order; this year, the economy and jobs dominate the landscape. Republicans privately concede they would have preferred a race against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe, who would have been easy to caricature as a slick and untrustworthy carpetbagger. McDonnell told the Hotline that he believed Deeds would be a "fierce" opponent.

McAuliffe's campaign came to resemble the failed presidential bid of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

 

Undaunted, Republicans came out fighting Tuesday night. "Creigh Who?" the Republican National Committee asked in a statement released just minutes after Deeds declared victory, highlighting his past support for cigarette and gasoline tax hikes and challenging his consistency on supporting gun rights. Nationally, Republicans need to win gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey to help revive their prospects heading into 2010. Deeds' victory Tuesday makes that more difficult.

In a race likely to be viewed as a bellwether on President Obama, Deeds puts a different face on the Democratic message. Moreover, 2009 is likely to mark the state's first gubernatorial election in decades in which the Democratic nominee campaigns enthusiastically with national party leaders. While McDonnell will draw a slew of national Republicans like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, Deeds will cozy up to Obama, the first Democrat to carry Virginia in 44 years.

The rise, and fall, of Candidate McAuliffe: He came equipped with a marquee name, establishment support, a national fundraising base, a fleet of seasoned advisers and an air of inevitability generated by both the media and his campaign. Sound familiar? In many ways, McAuliffe's campaign came to resemble the failed presidential bid of Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he enthusiastically supported in Virginia and beyond. Perhaps McAuliffe's biggest mistake was to showcase endorsements from two national Democrats (Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell) in the campaign's final days. The move backfired, reinforcing McAuliffe's lack of Virginia roots and his chummy ties to the political elite. (Yes, Mr. Schweitzer, you're part of the political elite.) "Sometime, someone will have to explain to me why McAuliffe imported Govs. Schweitzer and Rendell for late endorsements," the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato tweeted Tuesday night. "Worth 10 votes."

Guns rule, gay marriage doesn't: While the same-sex marriage movement is gaining momentum across the country, particularly in the Northeast, Tuesday's vote suggests it hasn't taken hold with Virginia Democrats, who remain more comfortable supporting a gun-rights candidate like Deeds than a gay-rights candidate like Moran. For that, Deeds can thank Sen. Mark Warner, who made gun-rights voters a cornerstone of his 2001 gubernatorial victory and has worked hard, along with Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. Jim Webb, to keep them in the Democratic fold.

Regionalism? What's that? Deeds trounced his Dem rivals in Northern Virginia, the most vote-rich part of the state, which both McAuliffe and Moran call home. He carried all three congressional districts (including the 8th District, which has been represented since 1991 by Moran's older brother Jim) and the four counties (Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun). Sure, he was buoyed by the Washington Post endorsement and his support for abortion rights. But more importantly, he paid homage to the region's top priority (transportation) and ran a late series of TV ads in the Washington media market that paid off handsomely. He also benefited in the politically sophisticated region from the electability argument. While many of the region's more liberal Democrats may have disagreed with Deeds on key issues, they backed him because they considered him the strongest candidate to face McDonnell this fall.

Were they right? Stay tuned.

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