Michael Hamar

Are Obama, National Democrats and Deeds Setting Up to Lose Virginia?

Filed By Michael Hamar | August 06, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

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Last month the Washington Post reported Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, Creigh Deeds, has purportedly picked up endorsements from seven Republican members of the General Assembly:

Most were familiar names, Republicans who have previously expressed disenchantment with their party's leadership and have worked closely with Democrats such as former governor Mark Warner. But two - former state senators J. Brandon Bell II (Roanoke) and Martin E. Williams (Newport News) - had not endorsed Democrats before in statewide races. 'I thought this race offered an opportunity of such importance that I do this,' Williams said at a news conference announcing his support.

As legislators, several of them had joined Deeds in supporting proposals to raise new revenue for roads, including through tax increases that Republicans blocked. Williams said he believed a transportation funding plan McDonnell announced Tuesday would take dollars from schools instead of providing new funding.

Not to diminish this accomplishment, but there are several newer stories that ought to be raising significant concerns, if not downright terror, among Democrats - both those in Virginia and in the White House - in terms of the possible outcome of the statewide races in Virginia this fall.

The first is a new Public Policy Polling survey shows that ALL of the Democratic candidates in Virginia are trailing their Republican opponents by double digits.

Meanwhile as Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob "Taliban Bob" McDonnell continues to falsely market himself as a moderate, Creigh Deeds remains largely invisible. Worse yet, he seems to being doing no outreach whatsoever to either black or LGBTQ Virginians - without whose support he will not be elected governor. And President Obama is certainly not helping Deeds with these two key voting groups either.

Another developing story of note was in yesterday's Washington Post, and focuses on how Obama's failure to deliver on campaign promises is severely hurting the Democratic statewide slate. Here are a few highlights:

For Cleland [a Northern Virginia realtor], it was another example - one of many this day - of the broken promises of a president who she thought would be different. Obama pledged to change a Washington culture that favored corporations and the connected and instead lift families such as the one sitting next to Cleland out of their economic funk. Rather, she said, Obama has backed billions of dollars to banks that continue to "act like they're broke" and started the country down a path that Cleland said she thinks will lead to more grief for the middle class. "He's just not as advertised," she said. 'Nothing's changed for the common guy. I feel like I've been punked."

Supporters of the president say his efforts will pay off for Deeds. But Republicans are gambling that many of Virginia's middle-of-the road voters, who have backed Democrats in recent races, will be up for grabs as people grow more skeptical of Democratic leadership. "The mood is becoming just as lousy for the Democrats as it has been for us the last couple of years," said J. Kenneth Klinge, a longtime Virginia GOP strategist. "It's evening the playing field."

Should Deeds lose to McDonnell, it will be labeled as a rejection of Obama and worse yet, Virginia will have policy made via McDonnell by Pat Robertson, James Dobson and the Family Foundation - all of whom are de facto racists, anti-gay and anti-Hispanic (under the guise of immigration reform). In terms of gays, I don't believe that this election cycle Deeds has to date even conceded that we exist. Of course, Obama has largely thrown gays under the bus at this point.

Politico had a story last month that was reprinted in the Virginian Pilot that looks at this problem in terms of Doug Wilder's reticence in endorsing Deeds. The Daily Press also had a story on Deeds' weakness with key constituencies. First some highlights from Politico:

The Obama administration dispatched a senior aide to Richmond Wednesday to urge former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to get behind state Sen. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

But Wilder, in disclosing the meeting in an interview with POLITICO, made it clear that he remained far from endorsing Deeds and was in no hurry to weigh in on the closely watched race -- all the while outlining with his typical brutal candor what he thought some of the party's challenges were and what was at stake. On what the former governor called "bread-and-butter issues," he said of Deeds: "Tell me what the man has done? I haven't heard it." Asked if he thought Deeds may have a problem this fall with African-American voters, Wilder said flatly: "I do."

He said black voters have no reason at the moment to vote for the nominee and referred to the decision this week of BET co-founder and Democratic donor Sheila Johnson to support GOP nominee Bob McDonnell. "Many people feel taken for granted and I think that was built into the decision Mrs. Johnson made," Wilder said.

And Wilder took a similar swipe at the state Democratic Party, saying he had not heard from its high command. "I'm right here in Richmond," he said with a chuckle. "I thought the party headquarters was in Richmond." But Wilder also said that Obama officials had aggressively sought his endorsement for Deeds. They argued that keeping the governor's mansion in Democratic hands was important for the president's political standing.

In last month's three-way primary, Deeds fared poorest in the Richmond-to-Tidewater region where Wilder still commands the most influence. Democrats are concerned that the state senator [Deeds], who hails from an overwhelmingly white Allegheny Mountain town, may not have the same appeal to black voters as their past two governors, Alexandria's Mark Warner and Richmond's Tim Kaine.

Again what is compounding this problem in Virginia is the fact that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have yet to deliver on any significant campaign promises. The result is a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats for coming out to vote this fall that will not be turned around by a few quick campaign visits by Obama.

While he won the Democratic primary, I have personally viewed Deeds as the weakest candidate against McDonnell. Not to deride Deeds for his origins, but Deeds is from the most backward part of the state and many believe that region's politicians have largely kept Virginia in the 19th century on social issues and the lack of transportation funding. The Daily Press likewise looks at Deeds' potential uphill battle.

Here are some highlights:

"No question, there's a lot of softness in support among some core constituencies and he's got a lot of work to do," said Democratic blogger Ben Tribbett. Perhaps Obama's first visit for Deeds on Aug. 6, a rally and fundraiser in the Virginia suburbs a short drive from the White House, will change some of that.

Deeds has supported gun rights legislation, notably opposing a state law limiting people to one handgun purchase per month. He supported Virginia's constitutional ban on gay marriage. He has not rejected a coal-fired power plant proposed for Surry County and he backs clean coal research, calling that energy source too important to be dismissed. That helps explain the midsummer chill between Deeds and some liberal groups.

"We want him to win, but we want him to win engaged on what is front-and-center on our minds," Levandoski said. Black voters are another major Democratic constituency where Deeds has work ahead.

In some ways by nominating Deeds, the Democrats have set the stage where the election will be perceived more as a contest between two Republicans rather than candidates from different parties. Admittedly, I did not support Deeds in the primary for the very simple reason that I had concerns whether he can motivate liberal voters and voters in Northern Virginia and Tidewater who may see him as just a watered down version of Bob McDonnell.

If Deeds cannot carry Tidewater, he cannot win in November. And if Obama and the Congressional Democrats do not deliver on some campaign promises very soon, I truly do not see Deeds getting elected come November.


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