VA-GOV: Anyone's Game

My political instincts have been telling me for a few weeks that Terry McAuliffe has been separating himself from the field in Virginia's Democratic ...
by | April 1, 2009

My political instincts have been telling me for a few weeks that Terry McAuliffe has been separating himself from the field in Virginia's Democratic primary for governor. The former Democratic National Committee chairman has won the lion's share of the media attention and is almost certainly going to raise the most money. Creigh Deeds, a state senator from the Shenandoah Valley, and Brian Moran, a former delegate from Northern Virginia, have appeared to be capable state politicians -- but incapable of matching a national political figure like McAuliffe.

As it turns out, this is a textbook case of why politicians rely on professional polling, rather than the political instincts of bloggers.

Public Policy Polling just released a new poll on the race:

Brian Moran has moved into a slight lead at 22%, with Terry McAuliffe at 18%, and Creigh Deeds at 15%. Compared to a month ago all of the movement is within the margin of error, with Moran going from 19 to 22%, McAuliffe going from 21 to 18%, and Deeds going from 14 to 15%.

While this movement isn't especially meaningful, what's clear is that, contrary to my expectations, McAuliffe isn't pulling away. Score one for empirical research over instinct.

I still wouldn't be surprised if McAuliffe wins comfortably in the June 9 primary. He probably hasn't used his financial edge to his advantage yet. For now, though, Deeds and Moran have a chance.

Lest you think Deeds and Moran are two interchangeable non-McAuliffe candidates, they actually have employed diametrically different strategies vis-à-vis the former DNC chairman. Moran is confronting McAuliffe head-on, saying, for example, "We need a fighter, not a fundraiser."

Deeds' approach seems to be to hope Moran and McAuliffe go nuclear on one another, allowing him to sneak to victory with a low-key approach. He's the tortoise with a shot at beating two hares.

It's worth noting that there's not a runoff in this race. The person with the most votes June 9 wins the nomination and faces former Attorney General Bob McDonnell in the general election.

A fun hypothetical: Who would benefit if there were a runoff? McAuliffe might be better off without one because there is a relatively large number of anyone-but-Terry Democrats -- he easily has the highest negatives in the poll. He might not be able to reach 50% in a one-on-one matchup.

On the other hand, McAuliffe's fundraising prowess might be even more potent when brought to bear over two elections, instead of one. I'm not sure Deeds or Moran could reload financially in time to beat McAuliffe in a runoff. Sadly, we'll never find out.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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