By Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 18, 2009
It was a return to the 2008 campaign season in Virginia on Saturday, as Democratic candidate for governor R. Creigh Deeds trolled for votes in the Northern Virginia communities that helped elect President Obama and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Robert F. McDonnell rallied with former GOP presidential contender John McCain in Virginia Beach.
Last year's race ended with the commonwealth backing a Democrat for president for the first time in four decades, but a year later, McDonnell is comfortably ahead in the polls and confident that Virginians are experiencing buyer's remorse over Obama.
For Deeds, Saturday's task was to convince Democrats that the race is not over -- if they can recapture a bit of the spirit of a year ago.
"Let me dispel any rumors of my demise," Deeds told an enthusiastic crowd of Latino voters at Rubio's Palenque Restaurant in Falls Church. He reminded the group that polls showed him 23 points behind just 20 days before the June primary in which the state senator defeated two rivals for the Democratic nomination.
Obama will come to Virginia to campaign for Deeds on Oct. 27, the campaign announced Friday. It is a date that gives Deeds's organizers time to hype the event and a week before the Nov. 3 election to use it to build momentum.
"Making that case, 'Hey, this is important to a president who is popular in Virginia,' that will help," said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), campaigning Saturday with Deeds and lieutenant governor candidate Jody Wagner. Kaine, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, noted that a recent Washington Post poll showed Obama's approval rating at 58 percent in Virginia.
In Virginia Beach, McDonnell and McCain offered an alternative view of what Virginians have concluded about Democratic leadership.
"My friends, there's something going on out there in America," McCain said. "It's anger and it's frustration. They're sick and tired of the corruption in Washington. They're sick and tired of the earmark and pork barrel spending."
Deeds started Saturday attending services at Beth-El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, then met with teachers at the Virginia Education Association office in Fairfax City before heading to Falls Church. He addressed the group Ethiopians for Change, which was launched to elect Obama last year and endorsed Deeds's effort after his speech. He ate pho noodles with Vietnamese voters at the Eden shopping center in Falls Church and revved up a group of soggy door-knocking volunteers at a park in Annandale, which included 30 college Democrats from the University of Michigan spending their fall break working the Virginia election.
Deeds told the groups that he would govern in the mold of Kaine and former governor Mark Warner (D), now a U.S. senator. He said he would make fixing the region's transportation woes an urgent priority but would not divert money from education to do so. He promised more affordable higher education and talked up a plan to offer a tax credit to any business that creates a job.
Deeds also told supporters that "the people were heard" in 2008 but that the effort could not end there.
"In a participatory democracy like this, the work goes on and on and on," he said at the Annandale park.
McDonnell spent Saturday at a slew of events in the state's two other population centers, Hampton Roads and Richmond, attending a town hall meeting and seafood festival in Poquoson, the annual political gathering of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and a Hispanic diversity reception in Richmond. He also tailgated in Norfolk at the football game between Norfolk State and Hampton universities.
McCain headlined a packed veterans rally in Virginia Beach on Saturday morning. About 300 people crammed into a Veterans of Foreign Wars post adorned with massive red, white and blue "Veterans for McDonnell" signs.
The Arizona senator, a Navy veteran who was once based at nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, gave a speech that mixed humorous stories about his military career and a serious call to action to reverse the direction of the country.
He praised McDonnell as a "fiscal conservative" who would fight spending and criticized Deeds for negative TV ads. "They're wrong, and the people of Virginia will reject that kind of campaigning," McCain said.
The heavily populated and racially diverse Hampton Roads is one of the state's crucial swing areas and home to core constituencies for both parties. Per capita, more veterans live in Virginia than any other state, and it is home to the world's largest naval base.
McDonnell, a former Army officer, was accompanied by several members of his family, including 28-year-old daughter Jeanine, who served in Iraq.
"This is an incredibly great nation that we love freedom and democracy so much that we're willing to serve and send Americans into harm's way . . . to be able to usher in freedom for people that we don't even know because we know it's the right thing to do," McDonnell said.