By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007
RICHMOND, Dec. 13 -- State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds said Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor in 2009, an unusually early announcement that sets the stage for a two-year campaign for the state's top job.
In a video on his Web site, Deeds said he is the best candidate to carry on the legacy of the state's current and former Democratic governors and will work "to create opportunity in every corner of Virginia."
"Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have shown us there's a better way," said Deeds, 49, who represents the Charlottesville area. "That better way -- an optimistic, common-sense approach to solving problems -- is how I will lead Virginia forward if given the privilege to serve as your next governor."
Deeds, a former prosecutor who often refers to himself as a country lawyer, lost the 2005 race for attorney general by 360 votes out of nearly 2 million cast. He is the first person to formally announce that he is running for governor.
Virginia Democrats will select their party's nominee in June 2009. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is barred by law from seeking consecutive terms.
Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) also is expected to run for governor. He said he won't make a formal announcement until after the legislative session ends in March. "Right now, I am focused on meeting the challenges of the 2008 legislative session and assisting the governor on his initiatives," he said.
Lewis Franklin "L.F." Payne Jr., a former congressman who was an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 1997, also is considering running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
"I am very interested in it, but we will make our decision sometime after the first of the year," said Payne, who works for a D.C. lobbying firm.
If Moran or Payne challenges Deeds, it would be the first competitive race for the Democratic nomination for governor in Virginia since 1985, when Gerald L. Baliles, then the attorney general, faced off against Richard J. Davis Jr., the lieutenant governor at the time. Davis dropped out a few days before the nominating convention, when it became clear that Baliles was going to win.
The 2009 governor's race will come at a critical time for Virginia Democrats, who are hoping to continue their recent success in statewide elections.
The Democratic nominee probably will face a strong Republican candidate. Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell Jr., who beat Deeds two years ago; George Allen, a former governor and U.S. senator; and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Deeds, who holds conservative views on some social issues, said in an interview that his campaign will be centered on investing in education, environmental protection and transportation and in building a "research-based economy."
"I am going to focus on the big-picture, quality-of-life issues," he said.
Deeds's announcement came as some party activists were preparing to press him to run for attorney general in 2009 in hopes of avoiding a contentious fight over the nomination for governor. His announcement, before Kaine has reached the midpoint of his four-year term, surprised many Democrats.
Deeds and Moran "are well-liked by certain Democrats, but there is a certain degree of uneasiness about whether either is as strong as Mark Warner and Tim Kaine were," said Robert Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I really do think it is in their interest to be out there early so people know them well, so they increase their visibility and increase Democrats' comfort level with them."
Moran, a former prosecutor who has spent two years traveling the state in preparation for a bid for governor, is expected to argue that he can best replicate Kaine's 2005 strategy of racking up big margins in vote-rich Northern Virginia.
Deeds says he will be able to help Democrats improve their prospects in rural southern and western Virginia, where Democrats have struggled in recent statewide elections.
After completing law school in North Carolina, Deeds settled in southwest Virginia to practice law.
After four years as a prosecutor, Deeds spent 10 years in the House of Delegates and six in the Senate, where he has focused on education, economic development and environmental conservation.
Deeds was a sponsor of Virginia's version of the Amber Alert, used to help find missing children, and Megan's Law, which mandates tracking of released sex offenders. He also has been a leader in the unsuccessful fight to let an independent commission, instead of lawmakers, draw legislative boundaries.
One of Deeds's most high-profile measures was a 2001 constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish.
In his 2005 bid for attorney general, Deeds won a coveted endorsement from the National Rifle Association because he voted against the state's one-handgun-a-month law. Although he narrowly lost to McDonnell, Deeds fared better than Kaine that year in many rural counties. "I have already proven I can get votes in every part of Virginia," Deeds said.
But some of Deeds's votes could haunt him in a Democratic primary. He twice voted to place a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions on the ballot, a move he now says was a mistake.
"He has to take some time to present himself to the activist base of the Democratic Party in the metropolitan areas," Holsworth said. "Moran's challenge is to convince people he can win outside Northern Virginia."