Gubernatorial Candidate Deeds Tries Tweeting His Way to Victory in Va. Democratic Primary

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 11, 2009

R. Creigh Deeds has come unplugged. The Virginia candidate with rural roots is making a play for the TwitterBerry set.

Deploying the newest tech tools is old hat in the modern campaign, but now Deeds has tapped Barack Obama's text messaging chief and Hillary Clinton's head of social networking to help him make inroads in his run for governor.

In the process, the candidate known for his earnest style has begun to show another side -- mobile-blogging about the iPod soundtrack pumping on treks across the commonwealth. "Behind school buses near Buffalo Gap. Van Morrison keeps me company," came a message early one recent morning.

Underlying the furious thumb-tapping, of course, is a bit of political jujitsu. The back-roads-Democrat-goes-BlackBerry-wild meme is a convenient one. The state senator from Bath County has cast himself as the candidate who can win in the state's more conservative areas. But he also wants to parry efforts to caricature him as out of touch with vote-rich Northern Virginia, where rivals Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe live.

Still, Deeds, 51, seems to be getting some genuine enjoyment from the latest technological riffs, which have centered on eclectic playlists that ease long hours of driving or making old-school telephone calls to potential donors.

In the run-up to a March 31 fundraising deadline, when candidates rushed to pad their totals to demonstrate political potency, Deeds went on a 36-hour rock-and-roll binge.

"Back into the afternoon routine. Soutside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes keep me smiling and dialing," Deeds wrote in a quickly typed March 30 Twitter post, which was retweeted to his Facebook page. "Back on the road. The Who will provide the sound for awhile then will flip to some Dead," he wrote later.

By the next day he was on to Derek and the Dominos, the Band, the Cranberries and Joe Cocker, and his smiling mug was on Facebook pushing for $25,000 by midnight. His play-by-play in April moved from a soulful rendition of "Wild Horses" by the Flying Burrito Brothers to Lucinda Williams and Marvin Gaye. Yesterday, it was Bruce Springsteen, Merle Haggard and "Pizza Deliverance" by Drive-by Truckers.

"He's fallen in love with the Twitter," said communications director Brooke Borkenhagen. "We've unleashed the beast a little bit with that."

"You got to look for fun in this process, too," Deeds said. But he also acknowledges two other goals.

First, he said, he's trying to help the younger generation "understand their musical heritage, educate them a little bit."

"I just want them to understand that punk rock-and-roll didn't start with NOFX," he said.

Second, he's trying to win.

The chance to walk in the footsteps of former Virginia governors Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would be "a precious thing," he said. "I can't let that slip away. We're mortal. I'm going to spend more time underground than above ground. . . . I've got to squeeze out every ounce of goodness I can."

All the Tweets, Facebook messages, blogs and lists of supporters' cell numbers are retooled parts of an old-fashioned plan.

"This may shock you, but we're going to ask them early and often to get out and vote," said Scott Goodstein, who headed mobile campaign efforts for President Obama and first worked with Deeds in 1999. Text messages can increase turnout of new voters by 4 percent, he said. And in the sleepy month of June, that could make an outsize impact.

"I'm not really sure you can be too earnest," Deeds said. "Maybe I'm underestimated precisely because of my personality. But I'm rarely outworked. I'm going to look for votes wherever I can find them."

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