Why Deeds Is Losing

Creigh Deeds, the Virginia state senator who is the Democratic candidate for governor in next month's election, has never gotten his act together. He ...
by | October 20, 2009

Creighdeeds Creigh Deeds, the Virginia state senator who is the Democratic candidate for governor in next month's election, has never gotten his act together. He was the happy beneficiary of strife between his more liberal opponents in the primary but was then slow to get his general election campaign going.

He decided to attack his opponent, former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell, as an extremist, while at the same time seeking to position himself as a stalwart Democrat despite his conservative leanings on certain issues such as gun control.

McDonnell, who is a fairly conservative guy, has nonetheless run a very focused and disciplined campaign that has repeatedly made clear that his highest aspiration in life is nothing else but to create jobs for Virginians. Although Deeds has made much hay out of some of McDonnell's long-ago expressed social conservative views, McDonnell has mainly kept on trucking.

Deeds has managed to come off as mostly negative, while failing to convince his own party's more liberal voters that he truly speaks to or for them. The Washington Post, which endorsed Deeds a couple of days ago and whose coverage has seemed to me mainly to view the campaign from his point of view, nonetheless today printed a story that is a devastating portrayal of a candidate atop a messy campaign organization who is unable himself to connect with voters from the stump or one-on-one.

Deeds, who lost to McDonnell by a few hundred votes in the attorney general's race four years ago, will lose to him again by a much wider margin this time around. Republicans want this more than Democrats, who have been enjoying a major winning streak in Virginia in recent years.

That, too, is part of Deeds' problem, I think. But it's not the normal dynamic in which voters are simply ready for a change in party after a couple of terms. Gov. Tim Kaine and even more his predecessor Mark Warner, who is now in the U.S. Senate, governed as managers. They had a well-earned reputation, much commented on by Governing, for running tight ships -- bringing the state into the i nformation age, enacting sound budgets, remaining friendly to business and simply managing state operations exceptionally well.

Strong management is important. It's certainly underrated. But it's not all that appealing to voters. In fact, it hardly registers.

If anything, the opposite happens. Good management -- the absence of scandal or budget breakdowns -- leads to a sense that things are going along okay and that it in fact may not even matter much who is in charge.

That's part of why McDonnell's message of sticking to the basics has been so strong. But he was lucky in his opponent, as well.

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