So what’s going on in the Virginia’s governor’s race? Most Republicans are not yet in a state of panic; the level of enthusiasm among grassroots Democrats had been low most of this year. With the Washington Post’s thesis story energizing Democrats, it’s a close race, with a slight GOP advantage at the moment.
The Washington Post poll that told the story of a changed race, and a dramatic surge for Creigh Deeds, still has Republican Bob McDonnell at 51 percent. But perhaps the most intriguing result came when the Post asked Virginians whether the state needs “a governor who can get the state going in a new direction” or “a governor who can keep the state moving in the same direction we’re going.” A strong majority, 63 percent, said “new direction” while only 35 percent said “same direction.” Deeds is not technically an incumbent, but he is from the incumbent party and this is where his vague policies and contradictory pledges probably get him in trouble with the voters on the fence. Beyond that, the governorship changed hands in 1993 and 2001 and remained in control of the same party in 1997 and 2005. The “new direction” number was above 50 percent in 1993 and 2001 and below 50 percent in 1997 and 2005.
The McDonnell campaign is indeed up with ads that refer to the thesis controversy, but when your opponent is dumping millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads claiming that you intend to return the state to the Dark Ages, a response is necessary. (I am assured that all McDonnell campaign offices use electricity.) But state Republicans note that it’s now been three weeks since the story dropped, and they think the groans at last week’s debate indicate the public wants to hear more from the Democrat than endless invocations of the thesis.
So what is the Deeds strategy? Balkanization, with lies. In the northern suburbs, he’s making the case that McDonnell is secretly plotting the reestablishment of the Spanish Inquisition. In the middle of the state, he’s running ads claiming McDonnell is a tax-increaser, a charge the Virginian-Pilot deems “ludicrous.” In the south, Deeds is runing ads blaming McDonnell for Appalachian Power Co.’s recent series of rate hikes, a charge the Lynchburg News and Advance shredded as an “outright lie.”
The lack of a transportation plan is hurting, no doubt; the Washington Post editors are left arguing that their man will make the right calls but can’t say what they will be during the campaign because the voters are too foolish to recognize they’re the right calls. But just about every observer agrees that last week’s debate was a mess for Deeds, and Republicans who have watched him in the state legislature for a long time contend that it wasn’t the candidate having a bad day; it was Creigh Deeds being Creigh Deeds, hiding behind folksy imprecision and offering the disconcerting sense that he’s confusing himself as quickly as he confuses the listener. There will be two more debates televised statewide, on October 12 and October 20.
This week, former governor Douglas Wilder is expected to endorse Deeds. Two other endorsements to watch are the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the state Fraternal Order of Police.
I also understand Bob McDonnell is scheduled to sit down with the Washington Post’s editorial board today. He’s got to feel like a senior citizen going before the death panel.