Va. Gubernatorial Candidates Keep Low Profiles

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 12, 2009

RICHMOND -- The two candidates running for governor of Virginia have spent the first month of their race all but absent from the campaign trail, an unusual strategy at this point in any election but especially so for a tossup contest with national implications.

To a degree rarely seen in state politics, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Robert F. McDonnell have spent the early summer hunkered down, amassing resources and plotting strategy for what is expected to be a fierce clash of styles and ideas. They are girding for a campaign that is viewed as a bellwether of President Obama's sway with voters and a first test of the issues that Republicans hope will revive their party.

And yet, Deeds has held only a handful of events since his June primary victory, and McDonnell is going on vacation. Television and radio airwaves have fallen silent. The candidates were expected to hold one public event last week: speaking at the American Legion's annual convention in Richmond on Saturday. At the last minute, Deeds added several campaign events Saturday afternoon.

The two have been so quiet that they could be missing crucial opportunities to present their ideas to voters, share their personal narratives and begin to sow doubts about their opponent, political strategists said.

"To say there have not been a lot of fireworks is absolutely true,'' said Phil Musser, a political consultant who works to elect Republican governors across the United States. "It's definitely a different narrative than previous Virginia campaigns, as well as the other major race of 2009."

At this point in the Virginia governor's race four years ago, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican Jerry W. Kilgore were introducing dueling policy proposals and launching repeated attacks. In New Jersey, the only other state with a governor's race this year, both candidates are airing TV ads, and the issues are largely defined in a race focused on the performance of Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D). Obama will travel there next week to campaign on Corzine's behalf.

Kristian Denny Todd, a Democratic strategist who put the combat-boot-wearing Senate candidate James Webb in a Jeep and led him on an aggressive summer listening tour three years ago, said she has been wondering why Deeds and McDonnell have not been outlining policies, trumpeting endorsements, riding in parades and speaking at festivals.

"Everyone shows up to these things because it's summertime and there isn't a lot going on,'' she said. "I am surprised they are not doing things like that."

As a result, voters have had little chance to get to know the candidates or where they stand on issues.

McDonnell and Deeds, however, say their campaigns are active, not dormant.

McDonnell said he is spending 18 hours a day fundraising, attending small political events with supporters, participating in conference calls, putting together coalitions and planning policy announcements. Deeds said he has spent the past month engaged in meetings, fundraising and talking to undecided voters.

"We're working this campaign to death, and whether we're doing things publicly or not doesn't mean we aren't working," Deeds said. "We're working it to death."

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