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Valley Dem campaigns could feel heat from Deeds stratagem

So I’m discussing with the campaign manger for a local Democratic House of Delegates candidate the new push from the Creigh Deeds campaign that has the Deeds camp talking up Republican Bob McDonnell’s social-conservative advocacy and ties to controversial televangelist Pat Robertson one afternoon this week, and I’m relating how much I think the move is a sound one, considering how I expect it will take a bite out of McDonnell’s support among moderate voters for a candidate who can come across as a bit of a far-right wingnut on issues like abortion.

“It’s not going to do us much good here,” was the message I got back from the campaign manager, understating what I quickly realized should have been obvious to me.

The Valley is getting bluer every election cycle, but it’s still an uphill battle to run Democratic campaigns in House of Delegates districts that include significant portions of Augusta County and Rockingham County, as all four of the House districts in our area do. Not that issues with positions on abortion come up much on the campaign trail – I talked to two past House candidates for this column, one who didn’t remember getting a single question on abortion in dealing with voters, the second recalling the specific number there being three. But whether or not it’s out in the open, there is going to be a wider swath of people here than in, say, Northern Virginia, who are adamantly and unashamedly pro-life in their orientation, and they’re going to tend to vote in higher numbers than other subsets of the population.

“The question is, Were they going to vote for us anyway?” a local Democratic Party leader said in a discussion of the issue with me last night, raising I think an excellent point. Hardcore social conservatives aren’t voting for Deeds or a Democratic House of Delegates candidate, and it’s not that the new Deeds strategy is going to make them any more motivated to vote Republican than they already were. Republican voters in general and social-conservative Republican voters in particular have plenty to motivate them to vote in November.

The Deeds approach is to energize the liberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party while at the same time giving moderate voters who according to all the recent polling done on the governor’s race are breaking for McDonnell right now something serious to think about.

“This is an important issue because I think it shows the differences in priorities between me and the other candidate,” Deeds explained in an online interview with TimesDispatch.com on Wednesday. “While I’ve been in the legislature I’ve focused on creating jobs and creating economic opportunities, creating educational opportunities for other Virginians, my opponent on the other hand has introduced 35 bills during his 14 years in the legislature to restrict a woman’s right to choose.

“Not only that – on the issue of choice, on the issue of birth control, there’s a huge divide between us. He voted to restrict birth-control availability on college campuses, he voted not even to advise children in health class, they need to seek medical assistance after they’ve been sexually assaulted. He voted to allow pharmacists who share his views to not even fill birth control prescriptions… . I think that shows his priorities are out of step with the majority of Virginians,” Deeds said in the interview.

There’s always risk involved in any new strategic gambit. A big one that came to mind to me last night checking my e-mail is that the Deeds campaign could risk turning away moderate Republicans who had already decided to jump ship to back the more mainstream Deeds and are now wondering if the strategy shift is a signal that Deeds is not the centrist Democrat they thought he was.

“This new negative campaign strategy won’t sell in Virginia,” regular AFP contributor David Reynolds wrote in an e-mail to Joe Abbey, the Deeds campaign manager, that he shared with me.

Reynolds is a Republican for Deeds, if we can call him that. He’s written several columns detailing why he thinks Republican voters should consider climbing aboard the Deeds bandwagon.

“Let’s go back to improving education and transportation,” Reynolds implored Abbey in his e-mail.

And now let’s go back to assessing the impact of the Deeds move to tar and feather McDonnell on social issues on the local House tableau. I talked with one current Democratic candidate for this column to get a sense of what the candidates are thinking on this.

“We’re still talking about it,” was the response to my question on what the campaign response would be should a voter or reporter raise the issue of the Deeds campaign strategy and how it might play in the Valley.

The likely best approach, the candidate said, would be to emphasize the point that the local campaign is a race involving two local candidates discussing how to best represent the Shenandoah Valley’s interests in Richmond.

And I think that’s probably the best approach for a local candidate to take. But that also makes it tough to then line up alongside the gubernatorial nominee when he makes his obligatory visit to the district stumping for votes this fall, though, doesn’t it?

 

– Column by Chris Graham


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