Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Virginia Primary Wraps Up - On to the General for Deeds

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Virginia.

Yesterday, state Senator R. Creigh Deeds overcame Brian Moran and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe to become the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia.

It was truly remarkable because Deeds was definitely the dark horse for most of the race. Only recently did he surge ahead of his more well known opponents. In the end he crushed them - he earned about 50% of the vote to McAuliffe’s 26% and Moran’s 24%.

Several factors went into his victory.

1) Moran attacked McAuliffe to death, and took himself down in the process...

Just take this Moran ad attacking McAuliffe for his days as a businessman:

"The press on Terry McAuliffe's insider deals: McAuliffe has made a fortune investing, sometimes in companies that went bust, laid off thousands and drained employee savings. Barack Obama ran against exactly the kind of big-money politics that McAuliffe represents."

That’s a pretty serious attack, and it was definitely going to hurt McAuliffe considering the economic pain Americans are feeling. Yet, it also made Moran look like a pretty hardcore mudslinger - something that most voters are usually turned off to.

It created a void for Deeds to fill.

2) Deeds was able to take votes from Moran and McAuliffe in Northern Virginia...

This was huge. Not only was Deeds able to secure 800 of the 830 votes in his rural home county, but he was able to make huge gains in the DC suburbs - the Moran and McAuliffe turf. The unofficial results from Fairfax County, for example, show Deeds won with about 49.5% of the vote compared to 29.1% for Moran and 21.4% for McAuliffe.

Many in the press attribute this to Deeds’ endorsement from The Washington Post about three weeks ago. It’s the paper they read in the DC suburbs in Virginia and it came out at the perfect time - just as Deeds was picking up momentum.

3) The fact that McAuliffe is a political super-star hurt him in the end...

Make no mistake about it - McAuliffe’s name recognition, fundraising advantage, and relationship with the Clintons were huge benefits at first. With national connections and their donor lists, McAuliffe raised about $7 million over the course of his campaign - compare that to Moran’s $3.8 million and Deeds’ $3.4 million.

Additionally, McAuliffe had no problem getting former President Bill Clinton to stump for him and cut a radio ad. While it all helped McAuliffe initially - see the graph posted on Friday - he could not maintain his lead.

This simple reason is that he never took a real interest in Virginia politics until he saw the governor’s seat open up, and Virginians recognized that. Furthermore, he had the same problem that his ally Hillary Clinton had when he was her presidential campaign chairman - she represented old politics at a time when Americans wanted a fresh face. Virginians did not want a Clinton-era figure in their governor's mansion.

Besides, as many of us know, campaign people like ourselves (and McAuliffe) make terrible politicians. We know the game so well we don’t look like real people to the voters, and they don’t want to vote for a politician like that.

Instead, Virginians chose an “aww, shucks” candidate from rural Virginia. He was more conservative on social issues than McAuliffe and Moran - which should have hurt him in the metropolitan area around Washington - and was generally seen as more folksy and likeable.

All in all, many Virginians believed that Deeds would be more in line with the Warner-Kaine tradition of Democratic governors in the Commonwealth. Warner and Kaine were popular because they were moderates in an extremely purple state - specifically among Democrats because they could rely on these candidates to win against more far-right Republicans. Electability was probably the number one factor in Deeds’ victory.

On to the General Election!

McAuliffe and Moran immediately endorsed Deeds. That’s important because Deeds is going to need to raise money from their donors fast to catch up to the well-financed Republican, Bob McDonnell.

Meanwhile, you can already tell the Deeds and McDonnell campaigns have begun doing their Tully charts, figuring out the best message to use for the general election. In his victory speech last night, Deeds told supporters "we move into the general election, where Virginia either moves forward in the legacy of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine or backward toward the disastrous economic and social agenda of Bob McDonnell and George W. Bush."

The Republicans haven’t really found their argument against Deeds yet, but we can expect to see it develop in the next few days. Over the course of the primary, the Virginia GOP largely attacked McAuliffe, figuring their old foe would sweep up a nomination. It seems that the recent Deeds surge caught them off-guard.

So who do we think will win?

Some are already pointing to another race Deeds and McDonnell fought against each other - the 2005 race for Virginia Attorney General. McDonnell won the election by just 323 votes out of about 2 million - and he had a 2-1 cash advantage over the Democrat.

A recent survey of Democratic primary voters found that 59% will definitely support Deeds in the November election - including 55% of Republicans who crossed-over since McDonnell was unopposed in the Republican primary.

Meanwhile, a SurveyUSA poll last week found that if Deeds was the nominee, he would be tied with McDonnell with 43% each.

So at this point in the campaign it is just about impossible to say who will win in November, but because Virginia has been such a critical state for Democrats in recent years (and the fact that virtually nothing else is happening in campaign politics in 2009) we’ll be keeping a close eye on the Commonwealth in the months to come.

So stay tuned.

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