Does anyone else read the news and think, “Where are Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell?”
For a contest that is being fought largely on national issues and will undoubtedly have national implications, the Virginia governor’s race between Deeds (D) and McDonnell (R) isn’t getting much traction on the national scene. In fact, most people seem bored by it.
The election is only two and a half months away, but it isn’t receiving nearly the same amount of attention as the gubernatorial Democratic primary earlier this year and, before that, President Obama’s campaign in the Old Dominion last year.
This year’s New Jersey governor’s race has felt like an afterthought in political discussions, though less so than the Virginia race. That race has been dominated by the expectation of former U.S Attorney Chris Christie’s impending defeat of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D).
But the Virginia governor’s race was supposed to be different. The three-way Democratic primary between Deeds, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Virginia Delegate Brian Moran garnered significant attention, in large part because of McAuliffe’s national persona. When Deeds wiped the floor with McAuliffe and Moran, Democrats expected the enthusiasm to carry over to the moderate Democrat’s general election race.
That hasn’t happened yet. Democrats privately acknowledge that there is an enthusiasm gap both nationally and in the state since those earlier races. “Not a lot of people are paying attention to the race in general,” noted one state Democratic Party insider. More, some Democrats suggested that the historic nature of the presidential race, combined with the close Democratic primary, have left most party activists hungover.
Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that the Virginia race has certainly been less exciting than the New Jersey contest and that may have to do with the candidates. “Both of the candidates are running as centrists and that tends to shave a lot of the sharp edges,” he said. “These are fairly steady, not very exciting fellows. It doesn’t make for the most exciting campaign.”
In some ways this race is similar to past gubernatorial races in the Old Dominion, noted some strategists. Since they are contested the year after presidential contests, governor’s races often focus on the issues from the previous election. And analysts and the media tend to be more interested in parsing the results as a referendum on the president’s first year in office than covering the race while it is happening. Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, for example, penned a precursor to those stories last week when he wrote on the importance of the Virginia and New Jersey races for the president.
But the enthusiasm gap on the ground has led some Republicans to wonder whether the Democrats are simply conceding the race since polling suggests McDonnell holds a lead over Deeds that the GOP hasn’t seen in a Virginia statewide race in a long time. Recent polling shows McDonnell leading by somewhere between 8 and 14 percent.
Brian Kirwin, a Republican strategist at Rourk Public Relations, said he believes Democrats are focused elsewhere. “The national Democrats feel that have bigger fish to fry,” said Kirwin, who worked for McDonnell when he was in the state legislature. “They had expected healthcare to be done. The longer healthcare drags on the less you’ll see they are interested in Virginia.”
Kirwin also suggested that if McAuliffe had won the Democratic primary, the general election would be getting more attention because how well known he is.
Virginia Democrats, however, aren’t giving up. The primary wiped out Deeds’ war chest, so he has spent a considerable amount of time fundraising and, consequently, off the campaign trail. Democrats believe that they will be able to implement the same field operation that propelled them to wins in the last elections. They also believe they have an advantage because they believe there are more Democratic voters in the state than Republican; it is just a matter of getting them to the polls.
“We are 82 days out, which folks know is an eternity in politics, and we are really just hitting the crowd with our field program,” said Don Mark, the political director of the Virginia Democrats. “I think that is going to make all of the difference. We have a formula from past elections that has worked very well.”