In a tight and closely followed gubernatorial race in Virginia, the Democratic candidate, State Senator R. Creigh Deeds, received an important endorsement from the Washington Post – “Mr. Deeds for Governor” on its Sunday, October 18, 2009, editorial page. According to numerous polls, Mr. Deeds was falling farther behind his Republican competitor, former attorney general, Robert McDonnell and Mr. Deeds’ campaign needed some positive news.
Both national parties view this state race as a pivotal one and early indication of what the midterm elections might look like next year. To reverse sliding poll ratings for Mr. Deeds, the party has brought out the its heavy hitters including Virginia Senator Mark Warner who has been taking a very public and strong position of support on TV ads running frequently throughout the state. There are also indications that President Obama will publicly show his support for Mr. Deeds later this month. It remains to be seen whether all of this will change the tide of public opinion in the state by election date.
Several months ago, both candidates were polling about even. They came to Northern Virginia in August and spoke at a local business leaders conference in Tysons Corner. Mr. McDonnell was viewed by many attendees as having clear positions on matters important to state voters, especially Northern Virginia – jobs, transportation and taxes. In contrast, Mr. Deeds came across as vague in describing his positions and plans. Since that meeting, Mr. McDonnell’s ranking in the polls has risen while Mr. Deeds has fallen. To counter this trend, Mr. Deeds campaign began to air ads that attacked his opponent’s positions that affect women using a thesis written by Mr. McDonnell in 1989 while attending graduate school about the importance of women in the home and the harm that feminists were causing to families. A series of ads were rolled out with women speaking out against him and using his thesis as a rallying cry. Initially, it seemed to accomplish what the democrats hoped for – an improving poll position. However, it soon became clear that viewers and voters were turned off by these attack ads and began to focus on each individuals legislative track record and plans for the future. Many recent polls now show Mr. McDonnell with a 10 point lead.
Virginia like many states during this recession is facing significant revenue shortfalls and is making painful cuts in programs. Yet the state’s economic hub in Northern Virginia is facing a great need for funding of projects to ease the traffic congestion choking the area. Mr. Deeds has proposed new taxes to finance the cost of these projects while Mr. McDonnell proposes other ideas including privatizing liquor sales in Virginia, which is 1 of 18 states that control the liquor business, to fund transportation. The Post in their Sunday editorial attacked this suggesting that McDonnell “played fast and loose with the facts” about this funding idea. However, based on the poll numbers it seems that the Virginia voters are not interested in new taxes.
Against this back drop of state issues are the national ones which the candidates, especially McDonnell are addressing in their ads like unemployment, the influence of the unions including proposed law changes for union membership and the administration’s energy policy. While it is difficult for both men to point to positive legislative changes by their respective party, McDonnell has the advantage of associating the current economic recession with Obama’s policies. The debate on health care which augurs for many of bigger government and greater deficits also plays to McDonnell’s tactics of less taxes and better management of state programs.
Mr. Deeds needed a boost to his ratings and perception of a man who describes himself as “a nobody from nowhere”. It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks as new polls come out what the impact is of the Post’s endorsement and the new ads promoting Senator Warner’s support for Mr. Deeds. If he doesn’t quickly reverse the poll trends, then it is hard to imagine that Mr. Deeds and his party will win the election. Such an outcome could be an omen of what will happen in 2010.