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The Fix: The Non-Endorsement Endorsement

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By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009; 11:23 AM

Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder's (D) decision not to endorse state Sen. Creigh Deeds' candidacy for governor in Virginia after weeks of speculation that he would in fact do so has led us to create a brand new category in the Fix endorsement hierarchy: the non-endorsement endorsement.

For those not familiar with the Fix endorsement hierarchy (for shame!), here's a quick refresher running from most to least influential.

* The Symbolic Endorsement: Ted Kennedy backing Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.

* The State-Specific Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary.

* The Celebrity Endorsement: Oprah Winfrey for Obama

* The Newspaper Endorsement: Des Moines Register for John Edwards in 2004.

* The State-Specific Non-Statewide Endorsement: Rep. Connie Mack IV endorsing Gov. Charlie Crist's Senate candidacy in Florida.

* The Obligatory Endorsement: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran endorsing McCain's presidential bid in 2008.

* The Pariah Endorsement: Rod Blagojevich's endorsement of Roland Burris.

To this list, we add -- in honor of Doug Wilder -- the non-endorsement endorsement, which clocks in between the obligatory endorsement and the pariah endorsement in terms of its influence (or lack thereof).

For weeks, Wilder had been courted by prominent Democrats -- including President Barack Obama -- to publicly support Deeds.

Wilder, who was the nation's first black governor since Reconstruction when he was elected in the Commonwealth in 1989, remains an influential figure in the state's African American community -- a voting bloc Deeds badly needs to line up solidly behind him to beat former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) this fall.

Wilder, as is his tendency, publicly waffled about the idea of backing Deeds -- drawing significant press attention to the "will he or won't he" sweepstakes.

Then, late last week, Wilder not only decided not to endorse Deeds but put out a long statement detailing why he had made that decision. Wilder hit Deeds for his support of a tax increase to pay for transportation improvements ("This is not the time in our Commonwealth to talk about any kind of tax increase," said Wilder) and for his past support for gun rights provisions ("For this situation to exist and for Democrats who lead our party to say nothing is puzzling and inexplicable.").

Wilder did add that his decision not to back Deeds was "not intended to detract from Mr. Deeds in terms of character or commitment to the task of being Governor" but the damage was done.

Deeds' campaign would have been far better off if Wilder had simply stayed on the sidelines -- not endorsing but without a bright spotlight shining on that decision. As it played out, Wilder's public consideration and ultimate non-endorsement created a week's worth of stories about whether or not Deeds can unite the party -- particularly black voters -- behind his candidacy.

For that alone, Wilder deserves -- and gets -- his own category in the Fix endorsement hierarchy.


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