COVER- AC/CD (A Coup for Creigh Deeds): How Deeds got it done dirt cheap
Less than an hour after the polls closed, it was clear to at least one person inside the ballroom of the Omni Hotel who had won.
At around 7:30pm, veteran political reporter turned political center director Bob Gibson leaned over the shoulder of a Deeds campaign staffer to have a look at the election returns on his laptop.
"You're winning Arlington?" asked Gibson, incredulously.
Sure enough with 33 percent of precincts reporting, the soft-spoken country lawyer from Bath County was beating two political heavyweights from Northern Virginia in their own backyard.
Gibson, now the executive director of UVA's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, shook his head.
Indeed after all the votes had been cast on Tuesday, June 9, State Senator Creigh Deeds beat former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe and former Alexandria delegate Brian Moran in overwhelming fashion, taking 50 percent of the vote in the three-way race, to McAuliffe's 26 percent and Moran's 24 percent. By the end of the night, not only had Deeds won Arlington County (47 percent) and Bath County (96 percent), but also Richmond (40 percent), Norfolk (39 percent), Fairfax County (49 percent), Danville (50 percent), and, yes, Charlottesville and Albemarle County (76 and 74 percent) for a resounding statewide mandate among the Commonwealth's Democrats.
Addressing his victory party at the Omni, Deeds told supporters that the broad support he received was a sign of a united party, poised to carry the governor's mansion for the third election in a row.
"Whether it was cast in Abingdon or Arlington, Highland or Henrico, or right here in Thomas Jefferson's hometown, Charlottesville," said Deeds. "It was a vote to continue the progress we've made under Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine."
Deeds was visibly overwhelmed by the result, shaking his head and grinning as he took the stage about an hour after McAuliffe and Moran had called him to concede the election. He even choked up before speaking of his humble roots.
President Clinton stumped for his longtime campaign aide Terry McAuliffe on multiple occasions in the weeks leading up to the primary, including this stop in downtown Roanoke on April 28.
COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF TERRY MCAULIFFE
To read the June 10 headlines from national publications covering the Virginia Democratic primary, one would think that State Senator Creigh Deeds hadn't so much defeated his two Democratic rivals as he had drilled the final nail in the coffin of a still-living president.
"McAuliffe defeat is another blow to Clinton legacy" sounded the Associated Press.
"End of the Clinton era?" wondered the New Republic.
"Does McAuliffe's loss cap the end of the Clinton machine?" exclaimed the Los Angeles Times.
It's true, the relationship between President Bill Clinton and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe goes way back. During Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, McAuliffe was the president's national finance chair. Before Clinton left office in 2000, Time called McAuliffe "Clinton's kingmaker" and reported that McAuliffe had raised a combined $300 million for Clinton's political campaigns, legal funds, presidential library, and wife Hillary Clinton's campaign for the U.S. Senate in New York.
When the time came for then-Senator Hillary Clinton to run for the top of the Democrats' national ticket in 2008, McAuliffe chaired her presidential campaign, and again McAuliffe brought the rain, bringing in a total of $224 million before Clinton ended her bid in June.
So when McAuliffe announced that he would run to become the next Governor of Virginia, it came as no surprise that President Clinton would come to the Commonwealth to lend a hand to the effort–- a notion Clinton readily acknowledged in his stump speech for McAuliffe.
"The press says, 'Oh, well, Terry McAuliffe has raised millions of dollars for Bill Clinton. He has to show up.' And that's absolutely true,'" Clinton told a crowd in Richmond on April 28. "But here's what I want to tell you: I am here today for reasons that go way, way beyond that."
Such was President Clinton's message in multiple events throughout May with McAuliffe, not just in Richmond, but also in other voter-rich areas like Roanoke, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia.
So, with President Clinton having put so much of himself into McAuliffe's effort to become governor, was McAuliffe's resounding defeat also a repudiation of the the 42nd commander-in-chief?
Not really, says UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato.
"The Clintons have never been popular here," says Sabato. "But, Hillary Clinton is still Secretary of State, is still enormously powerful. If anything, the Clinton connection was baggage for McAuliffe."
Moreover, according to Jennifer Skalka, editor of the National Journal's Beltway blog "Hotline On Call," McAuliffe's loss is a continuation of the Commonwealth's less than friendly relationship with President and Secretary Clinton.
"President Clinton lost Virginia in both the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections, and Hillary Clinton got rocked by Barack Obama in the state's 2008 Democratic primary," says Skalka. "So the Clintons have always had trouble courting Commonwealth voters."
Still, Sabato says that if there's anything to be read into the connection between McAuliffe's campaign and the future influence of President Clinton, it's the diminishing crowds who came to see him.
"I was shocked to read that only a couple dozen to a couple hundred showed up at those events," says Sabato. "For a guy who used to be a rock star who attracted thousands, it's really quite remarkable."
"Only in America and only in the Commonwealth of Virginia can a mother– who still works as a rural mail carrier in Bath County," said Deeds, "send her son off to college with just four $20 bills in his pocket and have her son be standing before you as the Democratic nominee to be the next Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia."
That Deeds won at all makes it one of the most stunning come-from-behind victories in Virginia political history.
As of the end of May, Deeds had raised $2.8 million in the race compared to $3.7 million for Moran and $7 million for McAuliffe–- the latter the highest total ever raised by a candidate running for his party's nomination for statewide office in Virginia, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The polls mirrored the money trend. On May 20, less than three weeks before the primary, Deeds was in third place in a poll from Research 2000, garnering only 13 percent of support among likely voters, trailing Moran by nine points, and McAuliffe by a whopping 23 points.
Then came a turning point.
As Moran and McAuliffe began to take shots at each other, Deeds began to surge in the polls. An endorsement from the Washington Post editorial board touted Deeds over his Northern Virginia rivals as "the best candidate for Northern Virginia" [see sidebar], and Deeds began to climb higher. By the time McAuliffe and Moran began to criticize Deeds for his conservative stances on gun control, and his vote in favor of putting the 2006 marriage amendment on the ballot (though Deeds campaigned against the amendment in the fall), Deeds was already out ahead and pulling away from the competition.
According to UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato, Deeds' victory has as much to do with his opponents' political deficiencies as Deeds' own political strengths as a candidate.
"This was a process of elimination," says Sabato. "This is a moderate, centrist state. Moran had gone too far to the left trying to outflank McAuliffe, and McAuliffe came across as a wheeler-dealer and a hustler. There was the sense that they were both losers in November, and that gave Deeds the out."
The win puts Deeds in position for a rematch with former attorney general Bob McDonnell, the Republican who beat him by a slim margin of just 360 votes in the statewide AG contest in 2005. McDonnell stepped down to run for the governorship earlier this year. Deeds wasn't even done with his victory speech before he threw down his gauntlet at McDonnell's feet.
"Bob McDonnell takes the failed approach of the former president," Deeds said. "'No' on stem-cell research to find the cures for our families. 'No' on a woman's right to choose even in cases of rape and incest. 'No' on employment benefits for laid off Virginia workers. 'No' on a forward thinking energy policy."
Less than 12 hours after Deeds declared victory, McDonnell was on national TV and had his own ammunition for his once and future opponent ready.
"I think it's unfortunate that he would do the guilt by association that is typical and used against us in the last couple decades," McDonnell told MSNBC, saying the election should be "about the future, who has the best opportunities, better schools and roads and having government run more effectively and user-friendly."
Deeds told reporters he's not taking any time off before beginning his campaign for the general election.
"There's a Warren Zevon song called ‘I'll Sleep When I'm Dead,'" Deeds said. "That's what I live by."
Sabato says the Democrats picked the most politically palatable candidate for November, and that the outcome is, at this point, anybody's guess.
"Had it been McAuliffe or Moran, I was ready to come out and say McDonnell was the clear favorite," says Sabato. "Now, with Deeds, I'd say it's 50-50."
The morning after wrapping up the nomination, Deeds held a press conference at Virginia Democratic Party headquarters in Richmond with McAuliffe, Moran, and Governor Kaine all standing by his side.
"We're a stronger party because of this primary," said Deeds, "and I look forward to an engaging debate."
With that, Deeds had to leave. President Obama was on the phone.
Let the race begin.
Pleased Mr. Post man: Paper's endorsement boosted Deeds
At a time when the newspaper industry was allegedly dying a slow death, and State Senator Creigh Deeds was in last place in the polls, each did each other an unexpected favor in the campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
On Friday, May 22, two days after a survey of likely primary voters put Deeds' support at 13 percent to former delegate Brian Moran's 22 percent and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe's 36 percent, the Washington Post decided to eschew the two candidates from the D.C. area and endorse Deeds in a lengthy editorial.
"In 18 years in the General Assembly," wrote the Post editorial board, "Mr. Deeds has time and again supported measures that might be unpopular with his rural constituency but that are the right thing to do, for Northern Virginia and the state as a whole."
Specifically, the Post cited a conversation Deeds had with the board about his vote in favor of a gas tax hike in order to fund transportation initiatives in Northern Virginia, despite the fact that there was no direct benefit for his rural district.
"A gentleman from Lunenburg County called me up to say, 'I don't want my taxes to go up so they can build roads in Northern Virginia,'" Deeds reportedly told the Post. "I said 'Who do you think is paying for your schools?' Right now, the economic engine that has been driving Virginia has serious transportation woes. It's in the interest of every single Virginian, no matter where he or she lives, to fix that problem."
Finally, the Post looked back at 2005, the last time Deeds faced Republican nominee Bob McDonnell in a statewide election.
"Mr. Deeds lost by a scant 323 votes out of roughly 2 million cast despite being outspent 2 to 1," wrote the Post board. "This is one of only two governor's races slated for the fall, and whoever wins the primary will have plenty of cash. Virginia is still more purple than blue, and Mr. Deeds' moderate platform would have the broadest appeal."
Almost immediately, Democrats across the Commonwealth felt the ripple effect of the Post editorial and began to reconsider Deeds' candidacy. A week after the Post endorsement, Deeds pulled dead even with McAuliffe and Moran in a Public Policy Polling survey. Then Deeds bought air time in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, with an announcer trumpeting the Post endorsement, as Deeds himself did none of the talking. After those ads went on the air, Deeds' numbers again jumped, overtaking McAuliffe and Moran for the first time in a June 1 Suffolk University poll.
By the June 9 primary, the effect was in full swing. Deeds ended up with 50 percent of the vote, McAuliffe with 26 percent, Moran with 24.
According to UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato, the Post boost was a major factor in the final tally.
"It was the match that lit the fuse," says Sabato. "Democrats were in a genuine quandary because they sensed McAuliffe couldn't win in November. These were all high-information, plugged-in voters and in this information age, when the Post made their endorsement it spread quickly."
And at a time when newspapers like the Washington Post are losing revenue and circulation to both the decline of the nation's economy and the rise of online media, perhaps the influence of its endorsement of Deeds mean that the rumors of print media's death have been greatly exaggerated.
"Who knew," says Sabato, "that newspaper editorials still mattered?"
Crowing for Creigh: Deeds supporters celebrate the big win
Just after the polls closed on Tuesday, June 9, supporters of State Senator Creigh Deeds' bid to become the next Governor of Virginia gathered at the Omni Hotel to celebrate what they hoped would be a victory for the Bath County legislator in the Democratic primary. It would not be long before the party began, as Deeds won in a landslide. The Hook was there and brings the party to you.