By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
R. Creigh Deeds, a longtime state legislator from rural Bath County, won a stunning come-from-behind victory in the Democratic primary for Virginia governor last night, overwhelming a pair of better-funded and better-positioned opponents.
Deeds beat Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe in every region of the state, including vote-rich Northern Virginia, despite a pro-gun stance and relatively conservative positions that are out of line with many of the area's voters. His victory was so dominant that he captured 10 of the state's 11 congressional districts, including the one held by Moran's brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr.
All three campaigns and state political experts had agreed that Deeds was coming on strong in the final days of the race, but no one expected him -- or the other candidates -- to come close to winning the 50 percent of the vote that he captured. In an e-mail sent to supporters less than two hours before polls closed, McAuliffe's campaign predicted that "this thing could come down to the wire." McAuliffe came in second, with 26 percent of the vote, followed by Brian Moran with 24 percent.
Deeds, 51, will face Republican Robert F. McDonnell in a general election battle that amounts to a rematch of the race for attorney general four years ago, which McDonnell barely won after a late surge by Deeds.
This year, Deeds surged when he needed to, airing statewide TV ads in the final weeks of the race and capitalizing on an endorsement from this newspaper that quickly became a theme of his campaign in the Washington suburbs. As soon as it came out, he agreed to make a joint appearance with the other candidates in front of hundreds of business leaders, which he had previously turned down. He then added numerous other events in Northern Virginia and launched a week-long television blitz in the region.
Deeds, already known by Virginians in all corners of the state after his 2005 bid, began receiving the support of many undecided voters who were attracted to his pledge to bridge regional and partisan divides and invest in road and transit improvements.
Early in the race, it was Moran and McAuliffe who seemed to attract the most support. Many local Democratic leaders backed Moran, while McAuliffe assembled an all-star cast of Virginia campaign veterans. Both virtually ignored Deeds for months as polls repeatedly showed him in a distant third place.
But Deeds, a quiet, unpolished lawmaker who refused to attack or engage his rivals for much of the race, showed an authenticity that appeared to resonate with voters.
"He's intelligent. He's got a sense of Virginia history. He knows how to be effective, and he's dedicated to what's best for Virginia," said Peppy G. Linden, 59, executive director of the Children's Museum in Charlottesville. "He's not egotistical. And he works so damn hard."
At Deeds's victory party in Charlottesville, drinks were flowing, the sound system blared Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" -- the theme of Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign -- and the crowd chanted "Deeds, Not Words!" as Deeds and his wife, Pam, took the stage to deliver a victory speech whose opening was a bit understated.
"Well," he began, drawing laughs.
He told the crowd that the message that had carried him this far -- fixing the state's transportation woes, improving the quality of its schools and creating more jobs -- would carry him to victory in the fall against McDonnell.
"There's still so much work to do by focusing on what matters, delivering results for you and the hardworking families of Virginia in every corner of our commonwealth," Deeds said.
At Alexandria's Hilton Mark Center, Moran conceded the race a few minutes after 8 p.m., saying that Deeds is now "invincible."
"This wasn't exactly the evening we had hoped for," said Moran, standing next to his brother, wife and two children.
The McAuliffe crowd at the Westin Arlington Gateway hotel was upbeat even though McAuliffe's campaign came to an end earlier than they had hoped.
"This may have not have turned out the way we wanted, but it was quite a ride,'' McAuliffe said. "Over the past five months, I have crisscrossed Virginia and talked to people of all walks of life, and I've got to say, it's been one of the best experiences of my life."
Most of the race had centered on McAuliffe, a nationally known political figure and longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton whose boundless energy and booming voice attracted attention from voters and the media. But McAuliffe ended up doing the worst in the Washington suburbs, the place where people knew him best, despite amassing a $7.5 million war chest. He spent an average of $90 per vote.
Despite severe thunderstorms, about 315,000 Virginians, or 6 percent of the state's registered voters, cast ballots.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Jody Wagner, a former secretary of finance from Virginia Beach, defeated newcomer Michael Signer, a campaign strategist and national security expert from Arlington County. Wagner will face Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) in November.
The governor's race -- one of only two statewide races in the nation this year -- is being watched closely by both national parties.
President Obama and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who is also the Democratic National Committee chairman, are eager to continue a Democratic winning streak in Virginia. But Republicans hungry for a victory are spending millions of dollars in Virginia to try to win back the governor's mansion.
"I know from experience that Virginia is a place where Democrats have won -- and will continue to win -- because we take a pragmatic, results-oriented approach to politics and governing instead of an ideological one,'' Kaine said. "We're known for being problem-solvers and unifiers, and we pursue policies that work for Virginia families."
Moran, 49, of Alexandria, who spent two decades as a prosecutor and legislator, was the favorite in the race from the start. His supporters even tried to persuade Deeds to drop out and run for attorney general.
McAuliffe's unexpected jump from national politics into the governor's race late last year shook up the contest. Moran shifted to the left, touting his support of gay rights and opposition to oil drilling, and began steadily attacking McAuliffe for his business dealings and lack of involvement in Virginia politics.
McAuliffe, 52, who lives in McLean but is best known on the national scene, campaigned as a Richmond outsider who would bring needed change to a state Capitol mired in partisan bickering and use his business background to create jobs.
In the final days, McAuliffe and Moran worked aggressively to push back against the surging Deeds by reminding voters of his right-leaning record, which included support for allowing concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol and opposition to a ban on restricting handgun purchases to one a month.