Headed Into Virginia Territory
Dems, looking for a win.


Michael Graham

Sen. John Edwards has found a way to silence the criticism that he’s merely a “southern candidate.” He’s going to lose there, too.

The latest polling, from Mason-Dixon last week, has Edwards trailing Sen. John Kerry by nine points, and those samples were taken before Kerry picked up three more wins over the weekend. The buzz in Virginia is that Kerry is the nominee, period. This race is over.

Not that the Virginia press isn’t pumping life into Tuesday’s primary as hard as they can. Reporters filled the papers with headlines like “Sharpton Dazzles Churchgoers in Virginia” and “Clark Predicts Win,” but that won’t stop Virginia’s dazzled voters from defying the general’s predictions and vote Kerry.

Kerry’s got the headlines, he’s got the endorsements and he’s got the “Big Mo.” Press coverage over the weekend was dominated by the endorsement of Kerry by Virginia Governor Mark Warner (not to be confused with Republican Senator John Warner). My fellow Virginia Republicans were hardly surprised that Gov. Warner praised Kerry’s “fiscal policies,” given that Warner just abandoned a “no-new taxes” pledge to propose an additional $1 billion burden on Virginia taxpayers.

As it turned out, however, the Warner endorsement is merely icing on Kerry’s cake. The demise of Howard Dean in the national polls, not to mention Michigan and Washington, freed Kerry to campaign on the ground in Virginia. Kerry could probably win Virginia without setting foot here at this point, but his TV ads and stump speaking this weekend have virtually assured a victory. That’s one reason why Edwards has already changed his tune about Virginia being a “must-win” state.

Just in time, too. John Kerry received a rock star’s welcome at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Richmond Saturday night, and the passion was not ideological. He was greeted as a champion, the man who has been chosen to take the fight to President Bush.

Virginia Democrats are hungry–no, starving–for a win. Reporters remind them nearly every day that no Democrat has carried Virginia since 1964, and even that was such a blowout it hardly counts. The story in the primaries continues to be “electability,” and the race in Virginia was decided when the national media declared John Kerry “The Man Who Can Beat Bush.” If Wesley Clark or John Edwards were competitive, this relatively moderate southern state would be a good test match. But it’s too late for that now.

As a result, Edwards and Clark are left to run against each other, jockeying for second place. And the more they campaign to be “No. 2,” the less compelling the race becomes and the less interest it generates.

In fact, for those of us who live in Virginia, there’s little evidence a campaign is going on at all. Local media coverage was nearly nonexistent until this weekend. Wesley Clark has been on TV here for nearly a month, but it’s been a relatively light schedule. And even though I live in Richmond and work in Washington–which means I cover a lot of roadways–I’ve seen a total of one vehicle with a campaign sticker in the past week.

It was a John Kerry sticker on the pickup truck of a blue-collar guy smoking a cigarette and headed to the Wal-Mart. What could that working-class Virginian have in common with elitist millionaire John Kerry?

The only thing that matters to Virginia Democrats: They both want to beat George W. Bush.

Radio-talk-host Michael Graham covers southern politics from his home in Virginia. He is an NRO contributor.


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