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Obama's Swing-State Blues
Obama's Swing-State Blues
Virginia Democrat Creigh Deeds is running for governor...and running away from President Obama.
Not so long ago, Democrats were thrilled by the long length of Barack Obama's coattails. Creigh Deeds would be a lot more thrilled today if he could just step off.
Mr. Deeds is the Democratic state senator running for governor of Virginia, and while he's at it, running away from his commander in chief. It ought to worry Democrats that their top recruit for the year already views their Washington agenda as a liability. It ought to worry Mr. Deeds that there seems no escape.
The Virginian's problem is that he's a little too important to party leaders. The Obama White House isn't half as worried about what Virginia means for next year's elections as it is what Virginia means for this year's health fight. A wipeout in the Old Dominion could send Blue Dogs scampering for cover. If health care isn't done by Nov. 3, it may not get done. Mr. Obama needs Mr. Deeds to win.
Then there's current Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, moonlighting as new head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He claimed Mr. Obama's victory last year in his state proved "old Virginny is dead." This is his home turf, his gubernatorial legacy, as well as the first big test of his ability to continue his party's electoral victories. Mr. Kaine needs Mr. Deeds to win.
And don't forget Big Labor, which worries that a prominent Democratic defeat might slow its political momentum in Washington. Labor has also been itching to make purple Virginia a proving ground for ambitions like rolling back right-to-work laws. The unions need Mr. Deeds to win.
These big forces are pouring everything into a Deeds victory. Presidential and DNC fund raising helped the relatively unknown Democrat raise $3.5 million the last quarter alone, a bigger haul than any gubernatorial candidate in state history. Unions, including biggies like the SEIU, chipped in nearly a quarter.
Mr. Deeds needs that money, yet the penalty has been guilt by association. His opponent, Republican and former state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, made a big bet early on that the very Virginia voters who last year helped Mr. Obama win the state today have grave doubts about his agenda, and are wary of making the same mistake. Mr. Deeds has played right into his hands.
When the Democrat casts himself in the mold of more centrist Democratic predecessors such as Mark Warner, Mr. McDonnell brings up his close ties to Mr. Kaine, who now takes orders from national Democrats and Mr. Obama. When Mr. Deeds promises a business-friendly approach, Mr. McDonnell details his ties to the national unions, which want to strip Virginia workers of rights with card check.
When the Democrat tries to make the race about local roads, local taxes, local jobs and local education, Mr. McDonnell has, with laser-like precision, forced him instead to defend what his party's cap-and-trade legislation would do to Virginia's economy, defend what Washington's health-care agenda would do to Virginia senior citizens, or defend the February stimulus that has not created jobs.
Mr. Deeds doesn't defend. Quite the opposite. His first television ad in August showed him walking with Mr. Warner. Mr. Kaine received not a mention. The candidate refused to appear next to Mr. Obama until August—and only then after it became clear Mr. Deeds needed help shoring up liberal Democrats.
Polls show the president's popularity has dropped to nearly 40% in the state. By August, Mr. McDonnell had so successfully lashed Mr. Deeds to the White House that the Democrat was down by 15 points.
If there is a saving grace for Mr. Deeds—and there may yet be—it is also a teaching moment for Republicans. Mr. McDonnell's early strength seemed to suggest the GOP had learned its lesson and was determined to stop alienating voters. The Republican, a social conservative, let his record on those questions speak for itself, and instead ran a disciplined campaign focused on bread-and-butter economic concerns. Mr. Deeds kept trying to paint his opponent as too conservative for the state, but most Virginians saw a man offering solutions to their top worries.
The unearthing of a thesis Mr. McDonnell wrote 20 years ago, critical of feminism and homosexuality, changed the dynamic. The Deeds campaign unleashed ads calling Mr. McDonnell "Backwards Bob" and this time the accusation gained traction. Mr. Deeds has narrowed Mr. McDonnell's lead to five points. Mr. McDonnell has insisted it was long ago and his views have changed. Yet the majority of those who switched candidates were independent women. The moral for the GOP? Cultural controversy does not sell.
The good news for the Republican is that he's still ahead on the issues that count, from the economy to taxes. He's back to pounding his opponent on Washington, and Mr. Deeds is back to trying to justify his party to a state that isn't buying it. If Washington Democrats are curious how well their governance is going over in the swing-state voters that matter most, Virginia is flashing red.
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Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A13
Re: Obama's Swing-State Blues
Who the hell bumped this?