Creigh Deeds victory in the Virginia gubernatorial primary has been described as “stunning.” An afterthought to the battle between better known names in Democratic circles, Deeds is still being dissed by The Washington Post’s Roz Helderman:
Deeds lives in a sparsely populated county on the West Virginia border, a heritage that brings with it a stammering, unpolished earnestness. His adversaries have been poking fun at recent TV commercials featuring him staring silently into the camera — suggesting that Northern Virginians might be turned off merely by his heavy drawl.
A drawl and roots in rural America didn’t exactly make Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or LBJ unelectable. And remember that the opposite of unpolished is slick, rarely spoken as an attribute by voters.
The breath of Deeds victory is astonishing. A quick review of the results show that he won all but five counties and six cities. His margin of victory in northern Virginia must give the Democratic establishment pause. Conventional wisdom is that only hardest core Democrats vote in primaries and vote for the most liberal of candidates.
Northern Virginia wasn’t “turned off merely by his heavy drawl.” ANd he had an advantage in a three-way race as the two front-runenrs attacked each other, a strategy the country bumpkin had already previewed to Waldo Jaquith. Patience, as Bob Holsworth noted, worked. Voters didn’t like what they heard about the two other guys. As since when is “earnestness” a character flaw?
But importantly, even the most liberal Virginia Dems decided, to their credit, to vote with their head, not their heart. In short, they decided that more than anything, they want to win the governor’s mansion one more time. Neither McAuliffe, who frequently came off as a used car salesman, or Moran, who mistakenly went even farther left during the campaign, had much chance of winning in November. Deeds does.
One challenge Deeds will have is to overcome his “conservative” label that the media will inevitably tag him with, as if the man still supports Jim Crow laws. He was fearless in advocating for transportation soplutions, including a gas tax, that probably weren’t paramount in his neck of the owods. People in Bath County don’t have hour long commutes generally. Constantly calling him a conservative might surpress Democratic voter turnout. They need enthusiasm.
Another challenge will be to redefine Bob McDonnell. It’s not hard to do, but is Deeds up for negative campaigning? CAn he redifine McDonnell as teh right-wing zealot that he is, and will that be enough to energize Democrats and pull in a number of independents and moderate Republicans. If he can, it will be a huge advantage. People who attend Regent University, Pat Robertson’s law school, are surely among the nicest, but you don’t want them running your government. I remain hopeful that Deeds, in his “stammering” style, will be able to cut MCDonnell down to size, with a smile.
And it’s apparent that the gun issue has lost its attraction to liberals. Many may feel as I do. I don’t want guns in bars, or AK-47s sold in bulk to anyone with cash. But the bigger problem is keeping out of the hands of criminals, and I no longer think stricter gun laws can achieve that.
I’m not sure that after so much of the Democratic Party establishment ignored Deeds, he will do well to ignore them in crafting his general election campaign. All the slick brochures in the world won’t overcome major flaws. And maybe he has a more sophisticated way of getting to voters than leaders of the party, who still save all their pennies for direct mail, and can’t think strategically.