Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
By electing Barack Obama president, voters proved that they're willing to support a candidate with (as Obama put it himself) a funny name. Perhaps, then, it's no surprise that the leading contender in Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary also has a funny name: Undecided.
Public Policy Polling took a long-overdue look at the race and found undecided to be the runaway favorite with 53%. Trailing far behind were Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran at 18% apiece and Creigh Deeds at 11%.
Undecided, of course, won't be the Democratic nominee for governor. But it's striking that Democratic voters are so unsure of who they want to be their party's standard-bearer.
This isn't some distant election -- the primary is in June. And, these candidates shouldn't be entirely unknown commodities. McAuliffe is the former chairman of the national Democratic Party. Moran is the brother of a congressman, in addition to being a high-profile former delegate. Deeds has sought statewide office before. He was nearly elected attorney general in 2005.
This poll reflects the sense that I have: Virginia Democrats have three decent candidates, but each has weaknesses.
McAuliffe has the most political experience, connections and fundraising capacity, but he has to prove he understands state government. Moran has a lot of support in Northern Virginia, but he has to prove he can appeal to all of the state. Deeds has a good statewide profile as someone who comes from rural Virginia, but needs to prove that he can raise the money to compete in November. The candidates are unproven, so Democratic voters remain uncommitted.
Observers often debate whether competitive primaries are good or bad for a party. I tend to think that they're helpful more often than is commonly acknowledged (though certainly not always). My guess is that this is one of those cases where the primary is good thing. When you don't know which candidate is strongest, there's nothing quite like a campaign to provide an answer.
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