When Creigh Deeds announced his candidacy for the 2009 Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination back in December 2007, it was not exactly with the full support of the Democratic Party decisionmaking set. The whispers at the time and for months after were that party leaders had been trying to persuade Deeds to make another run at the attorney-general job to clear the way for Northern Virginia lawmaker and Mark Warner acolyte Brian Moran to run for governor.
That was right at about a year before former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe raised the stakes on the race by announcing his candidacy, promising to make the Democratic Party primary the most expensive in Virginia history, and before Moran responded by resigning from his House of Delegates seat to commit himself full-time to running for governor, and more importantly to being able to raise the kind of money that everybody assumed would be needed to counter the McAuliffe spending spree.
Deeds stuck to his guns, stayed in the State Senate, raised about a third of the money that McAuliffe did, and half what Moran was able to pull in, trailed desperately in the polls until the past couple of weeks, as had been expected, then something happened.
Some will give the credit to the Washington Post, which endorsed not either of the two Northern Virginia candidates, but the moderate-conservative from Bath County whose appeal to the Democratic Party activists was suspect because of his stance on gun issues and his silence on gay and lesbian issues.
The Deeds camp should get the credit one for the candidate earning the endorsement and then two for being in a position even with limited resources to be able to do something with it. Deeds went from the low double digits in the pre-election polls in vote-rich Northern Virginia into the lead in NoVa in the race’s final weekend, and came from the back of the pack statewide with two weeks to go to not only win but win convincingly, with 49.7 percent of the vote in a win that should also convince the pundits who had been saying as recently as earlier in the day on Primary Day that the November governor’s race was looking like the Republicans’ to lose.
“The election of Sen. Deeds tonight as the 2009 Democratic nominee for governor is an incredible victory for Virginia-and its citizens. Sen. Deeds’ victory is a clear signal Virginians want to keep our state moving forward, and I am pleased to extend my congratulations to my friend and colleague on this critical accomplishment,” said Virginia Gov. and Democratic National Committee Tim Kaine in congratulations to Deeds.
Deeds’ opening remarks at his victory rally in Charlottesville said it all. “No one could have imagined what we have accomplished here tonight in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the nominee said.
The primary win sets up a rematch of sorts from the 2005 attorney general race that was won by Republican Bob McDonnell by a mere 323 votes, or roughly one vote in every seven voting precincts statewide. McDonnell effectively secured the nomination of the Republican Party last year after coming to a gentleman’s agreement with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling that prevented a divisive battle akin to the 2001 fight between then-Lt. Gov. John Hager and then-Attorney General Mark Earley that split the Virginia GOP in two and made Mark Warner’s run to the governor’s mansion that November that much easier.
The presence of Deeds in the general election in 2009 will make the McDonnell campaign’s job that much tougher than the folks running the show there would have thought they would have had. Up until the last several days, the Democratic nomination had appeared to have been in the bag for McAuliffe, a former DNC chair with close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and the high favorable/high unfavorable split to match the Clintons’.
Bolling may get a run for his money, too, in his November matchup with former Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner, who received 74 percent of the vote to easily dispatch rival Mike Signer for the Democratic Party lieutenant-governor nomination. Northern Virginia State Del. Steve Shannon is the Democratic Party nominee for attorney general, and he will face radical conservative State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli in the general election.
The good news for Democrats Tuesday night is that the party seems to be coming out of the primary unified.
“Creigh can’t do it alone,” McAuliffe said after calling Deeds to concede. “That’s why we need to do everything we can to make sure that Jody Wagner is the next lieutenant governor, and Steve Shannon is the next attorney general of Virginia. This is the ticket that will keep Virginia moving in the right direction. This is the ticket that will carry on the traditions of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. This is the ticket that will get our economy moving again,” McAuliffe said.
“We need to look forward,” Wagner said. “And I am excited and honored to be part of the same ticket as our next governor, Creigh Deeds, and our next attorney general, Steve Shannon. Because this is the ticket that will keep Virginia moving forward, and create the economic opportunity that so many Virginians need,” Wagner said.
– Story by Chris Graham