Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Preview of Next Week’s Elections in Virginia

Summary: Today we look at Democratic backlash and Deeds' uphill battle against McDonnell going into next week's election.

On Tuesday, Virginians will head to the polls to decide their next governor between Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds and former GOP State Attorney General Bob McDonnell. Earlier this morning, Nate Silver predicted that Deeds was a “60-1 underdog at this stage.”

From his post:

If you had a 2008-type electorate turning out, this race would be reasonably competitive; McDonnell might be leading by a point or three, but it would be worth watching. With this type of electorate, the Democrat is pretty much helpless against a reasoanbly well-organized Republican opponent.

Of course, the composition of the electorate isn't a completely exogenous factor; the quality of the candidates and their campaigns can have some effect. Democrats seemed quite pleased when Deeds became their nominee in June, figuring he'd do well with working-class and rural voters. But the working-class, rural vote isn't where the swing vote is in Virginia, one of the wealthiest states in the country. Instead, it's the more well-off folks in the suburbs. And it tends to be those well-off folks, by the way, who are most likely to have changed their opinion on Barack Obama, as the perception has set in (to an extent) that he's a tax-and-spend liberal.

Meanwhile, Deeds hasn't done much to motivate African-American turnout, which projects to make up only about 15 percent of the electorate as compared with 20 percent in 2008 -- although the number is not so atypical for a non-Presidential contest in the state…

… Deeds can probably be blamed for his failure to find a good affirmative message, as voters perceive him 2:1 as having run a negative campaign. And -- let's face it -- he's not the most commanding presence on the stump.

This analysis - and conclusion - are all pretty believable. Deeds has been lagging in the polls for the past few months (recent polls show he’s down 15%-17%) and the Democratic Party in Virginia hasn’t exactly been helping.

Back in March, we noted how the Virginia GOP appeared to be in particularly bad shape internally - the State Chair was facing a coup, Republican delegates were retiring, and Democrats seemed poised to continue their Blue Sweep in the Commonwealth.

Just one month later we saw the signs of something entirely different - a disorganized network of groups and leaders that was poorly executing the priorities of the Democratic Party there.

From that post:

"…it seems that Virginia Democrats are either lacking the organizational skills or resources to mount an effective campaign against Bob McDonnell. Luckily there is a good five-month period between the Primary and General Elections for the nominee to do the grunt work. And McDonnell has planted the seeds of his defeat himself by opposing the stimulus package.

But if the current lackluster campaigning continues, Virginia’s Blue Sweep cannot continue in Virginia. GOP backlash to Democratic priorities has already been seen this week in Tea Party protests across the country. The Republican base is mobile and active, even in less exciting times on the political calendar."

Unfortunately for the Democrats, that lackluster campaigning most certainly continued.

And it’s not just Deeds who is in trouble. From an article in Politico:

Virginia Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is launching a new ad Monday for his reelection campaign that ties his Democratic rival, Jody Wagner, to her ticket mate, Creigh Deeds.

By linking Wagner to her party’s gubernatorial nominee, Bolling hopes to tag his opponent with the same perception that is currently hurting Deeds — that she is running a negative campaign and wants to raise taxes. It’s a strategy Republicans across Virginia are gravitating to as poll numbers increasingly point to GOP gains in the Commonwealth next month…

… “Higher taxes, fewer jobs, dishonest attacks — that’s Wagner’s record and that’s their plan,” the narrator intones as a side-by-side image of Deeds and Wagner is flashed on the screen…

… The GOP’s guilt by association strategy is also being used further down the ticket as Republicans, who have suffered a string of statewide losses in Virginia, are increasingly buoyed by poll numbers showing independents swinging their way and all three Republican candidates for statewide office enjoying solid leads.

In a Lynchburg-area House of Delegates race, the Republican candidate is calling his rival, incumbent Democrat Shannon Valentine, a “Creigh Deeds Democrat” in a TV commercial.

“What could Creigh Deeds and Shannon Valentine be thinking?” the ad produced for Republican Scott Garrett begins. “Deeds and Valentine want $1 billion in new taxes."

The State Legislature, however, does appear to be somewhat safe for both parties to maintain control at current levels.

According to the Swing State Project, the House of Delegates looks particularly unlikely to see a significant net gain or loss of seats one way or another.

But most of the statewide offices are about to go Republican, and the growing influence of Democrats in the Commonwealth over the past several years is about to face a major hiccup.

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