In each of the past eight elections for Virginia governor, the losing candidate belonged to the party then in control of the White House. So Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds is walking a fine line in how closely he wants to associate his campaign with President Obama.
As Obama’s approval rating has slipped in Virginia — a state he carried nine months ago — Deeds has fallen behind in the polls to Republican nominee Bob McDonnell, a former state attorney general.
But a president can raise lots of campaign cash, dominate media attention and gin up party activists for a preferred candidate — and that’s what Obama did Thursday night at a campaign rally for Deeds at a northern Virginia hotel ballroom about 15 miles from the White House.
Obama’s visit was the clearest manifestation yet of how the Virginia governor’s race is playing out in a national political spotlight.
Virginia is one of just two states holding an election for governor this year — New Jersey is the other — and the Nov. 3 vote in the politically competitive state will be interpreted as an early read into the electorate’s mood midway between Obama’s election last November and the national congressional voting in the 2010 midterm elections.
Several Democratic activists who spoke before Obama and Deeds took the stage and implored the crowd of Democratic loyalists to work hard to elect Deeds in 89 days. It will be a come-from-behind campaign: a Research 2000 poll this week had McDonnell leading Deeds by 8 percentage points, and other surveys show a wider gap.
At a fundraiser for Deeds that preceded the rally, Obama said “Let’s be honest. This is going to be a tough race.”
At the rally, Obama said that Deeds would continue the pragmatic governance of Democratic former Govs. Mark Warner, a popular Virginia official who is now a U.S. senator, and Tim Kaine, who is serving the final year of his four-year term.
Obama said Deeds is “cut from the same cloth” and is “someone who has that same vision” for Virginia.
Touting economic policy
Obama used much of his speech to vigorously defend his stewardship of the economy, including the economic recovery law (PL 111-5) that he signed in February. He said that Republican critics who have denounced the poor state of the economy have “selective memory” and that the economy would be worse if his programs hadn’t been implemented.
“Step by step, we are moving forward,” Obama said.
In introducing Obama, Deeds said that the president’s policies had helped improve the economy. Though serious economic problems persist, he said, “We’ve come a long way to restore confidence and pride in America. And we’re not done yet.”
Deeds used most of his speech to promote his education policies, including increasing the pay of teachers to at least the national average and spending more money on children’s education.
“We need to build on what Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have already started here in Virginia — and on what President Obama has the vision to advocate across the nation — by investing in quality pre-K education for every child,” Deeds said.
Deeds said that McDonnell’s plan to fund state transportation improvements would jeopardize funding for education.
“We can’t afford to take Virginia back. In this election, defeat is not an alternative,” he said.
Also underscoring the national importance of the race at Thursday’s rally was the appearance of Kaine, who doubles as Obama’s handpicked chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“Creigh Deeds has stood with us again and again and again,” Kaine said.
Republicans fire back
McDonnell, who this weekend will deliver the GOP’s national weekly radio address, has emphasized his opposition to several proposals promoted by the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress — including a cap-and-trade climate change bill and a “card check” measure to ease union organizing.
“When the administration and Congress push initiatives that will negatively impact Virginians, Bob McDonnell will oppose them,” McDonnell campaign spokeswoman Crystal Cameron said in a statement. “When the administration and Congress propose initiatives that will be positive for Virginians, Bob McDonnell will support them.”
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, who represents Virginia’s 7th District, issued a more aggressive statement tying Deeds to Obama. The president’s campaign appearance, Cantor alleged, shows that Deeds “is demonstrating that he will take his lead from the National Democrats.” Cantor pressed Deeds to take stands on the climate change, union and health care measures.