By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
As the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in Virginia enter the final stretch of their primary, former delegate Brian Moran is for the first time trying to bring attention to rival Terry McAuliffe's aggressive push to defeat Barack Obama during last year's fierce presidential nomination battle.
McAuliffe was chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 primary campaign, and he was among the last to publicly acknowledge her defeat to Obama during the contest's bitter final days. McAuliffe got behind Obama for the general election. And it is this later phase of the presidential campaign that McAuliffe has emphasized to Virginia voters, frequently referencing his tireless work for Obama as he stumps for their votes.
Moran is hoping core Democratic voters will have longer memories, recalling instead McAuliffe's daily televised advocacy for Clinton as she worked to defeat Obama. Moran this week unveiled radio advertisements in the heavily African American communities of Hampton Roads and Richmond reminding voters of Clinton's "3 a.m. phone call" ad that questioned Obama's qualifications for the presidency.
"The fact is, if Terry McAuliffe had his way, Barack Obama wouldn't be our president today," the voice in the ad says.
The three candidates will meet today for a debate in Annandale, their final head-to-head meeting before the June 9 primary. Moran has used past debates to blast McAuliffe, targeting him for his opposition to Obama during the primary.
The strategy is a tricky one, given that Moran himself sat out the primary and endorsed Obama only when it became clear he would secure the nomination. And while his brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), backed Obama, the chairwoman of Moran's campaign was a Clinton superdelegate who stuck with the New York senator long after Obama won Virginia's February primary by almost 30 points.
An added complication came yesterday, when McAuliffe accepted an endorsement from one of Obama's presidential campaign co-chairmen, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
The third Democratic candidate in the race, State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), also remained neutral during last year's primary.
Obama and Clinton appear to have moved past any hard feelings from the 2008 primaries, and advocates from that campaign said they believe some voters could be turned off by an effort to revive the internecine warfare.
Virginia Democrats "want to talk about the future, not the past," said Scott Surovell, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, who has not endorsed anyone in the race, but who led an effort to push superdelegates to back Obama.
In a fundraising appeal to supporters yesterday, McAuliffe's campaign called Moran's ads "a new low," and said they were "deliberately designed to deceive voters into believing Terry opposed Barack Obama's candidacy last November." It released a video of McAuliffe campaigning for Obama before the general election and a radio ad with McAuliffe saying he worked as hard for Obama in the general election as he had for Clinton during the primaries.
Still, Moran sees McAuliffe's embrace of Obama on the Virginia trail as one piece of a well-funded campaign of reinvention that he believes longtime Democrats will find difficult to swallow.
One of McAuliffe's first advertisements suggested that his efforts helped pave the way for Obama's victory.
"He is rewriting history," Moran said yesterday. "There's some audacity with him taking credit for helping elect Barack Obama when there were so many volunteers who worked diligently over many, many months to get him elected."
Indeed, Arlington Democratic Committee Chairman Peter Rousselot said it "grates a little bit" to see McAuliffe now touting his work in Virginia for Obama, given that he was one of Clinton's final holdouts. Rousselot, who has endorsed Moran, worked closely with Surovell last year to push superdelegates to back Obama. He said there might be a number of Obama supporters still sore over McAuliffe's posture in the 2008 primary's final days.
"Is that a tiny number? A big number? I just don't know," he said.