Deeds Runs as Heir to Kaine, Warner; Democrat Cultivates Image as Moderate
Sunday, September 13, 2009
At the tiny Virginia town of Buena Vista's Labor Day parade Monday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds began a short speech to cheering supporters with a summation of his campaign.
"The issue in this election is very simple," he said. "Do we continue to build on the progress begun under Mark Warner and continued under Tim Kaine, or do we move backwards?"
Again and again, when asked what his campaign is about, Deeds has turned not to policy but to philosophy, a promise to lead in the mold of Virginia's last two popular Democratic governors.
By running as the natural heir to Warner and Kaine, Deeds hopes he can inherit their reputation among many voters as moderate managers who are willing to spend on core government services but are careful with state money. He pledges bipartisan coalition-building of the kind exercised by Warner during a tough budget battle in 2004. Deeds often notes that he voted for the plan and that his Republican foe, Robert F. McDonnell, opposed it.
But Deeds's reliance on the two has also chained him to less useful parts of their legacy. Those include the budget cuts and layoffs that Kaine has ordered to deal with falling state revenue and Kaine's second job as chairman of the national Democratic Party and cheerleader for federal initiatives Deeds would like to avoid on the campaign trail.
It has also raised a more central question about whether Deeds, a state senator from Bath County who is not well known outside the state's rural west, has been spending enough time talking about who he is instead of whom he is like.
"The problem with Deeds is that he hasn't defined himself," said former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D), who has caused a stir by declining to endorse either candidate. "People say, 'Forget Mark Warner.' People say, 'We know about Tim Kaine.' People say, 'What do you want to do?' "
Deeds has put forward a series of policy proposals, among them providing a tax credit to any state business that creates jobs and paying 50 percent of the college tuition of Virginia students who agree to work in public service for two years after graduation. He has promised to pay attention to economic problems in the often-neglected rural regions and to call a special session in his first year to find new revenue for transportation. And he has been talking more about his life story and childhood in Bath.
But his central theme has been that he would govern like Warner and Kaine, whose styles, he says, contrast with that of an ideological GOP whose last term in the governor's mansion ended in 2001 and was marked by raucous internal party disputes. He credits the last two governors with helping Virginia win accolades from national organizations for good state management and a pro-business climate.
Asked by a reporter in Buena Vista to define what one or two ideas best represent his campaign, Deeds turned, as usual, to Warner and Kaine.
"This ticket represents a continuation of the forward-thinking, pragmatic, problem-solving, focused government of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine," he said. "Job creation and economic opportunity."
Deeds's Warner-Kaine strategy has required some fancy footwork. He hearkens back to the state's past two governors as proof he will take the state forward. He pledges continuity a year after Virginia helped elect a president promising change and as voters say they are anxious about the direction of the state and the country.