Deeds races to ensure Obama's voters are his voters, too

By Amy Gardner and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Democrat R. Creigh Deeds is making a final push for Virginia governor that aims to do what he has been unable to accomplish so far: awaken loyal Democrats who voted in droves for President Obama a year ago but are unexcited about Deeds.

After a weekend campaigning before enthusiastic crowds of immigrants in Northern Virginia and African Americans in Richmond churches, the state senator from rural Bath County will appear Tuesday in Tysons Corner with former president Bill Clinton. The group Black Women for Obama for Change will launch phone banks in seven cities. Virginia first lady Anne Holton will begin a three-city school bus ride promoting Deeds's plans to protect public schools and colleges. Next week, Obama will join the campaign for a day, an appearance Democrats see as crucial to rallying support.

Deeds's heavy focus on core Democrats represents a gamble that he doesn't need more Republicans and independents to win -- that a state Obama won by more than 230,000 votes, many of them cast by newly registered Democrats, now boasts enough to carry him through.

With just two weeks until Election Day, it might not be enough. Fellow Democrats have been fretting for weeks that Deeds appears disorganized and unable to rally voters who should be there for the taking. Not only is time running short, but Deeds also faces an opponent who has been focused and visible for months.

Republican Robert F. McDonnell is showing no signs of letting up, reaching out to veterans at a rally with Sen. John McCain, black students and Latinos over the weekend. On Wednesday, he will begin a four-city swing, visiting small businesses and repeating a theme of his campaign: that he will focus on creating jobs and keeping taxes low to help families and businesses weather the recession.

"It's tough -- I wish [Deeds] luck," said Alan Frank of Annandale, who owns the Eden Center in Falls Church, a Vietnamese shopping center where Deeds appeared Saturday with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. "I think there are a lot of people who would like to know more about him who are here and who don't know that much about him yet. So it's a good idea to come here."

Deeds has struggled to frame a positive message in a campaign largely dominated by negative TV ads criticizing McDonnell's social conservatism and the graduate thesis he wrote 20 years ago that criticized working women and homosexuals. The Democrat has missed opportunities to reach voters and opinion makers directly, for example, not sitting down with the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance to explain how he will fix the state's transportation crisis. His campaign has also been absent at a slew of community picnics and fall festivals, regarded as valuable moments to capture the voters' attention.

Two weeks ago, for instance, Kaine carved out time to campaign for Deeds at the annual Harvest Festival on the Eastern Shore, but not so much as a lapel sticker -- let alone the candidate or another one of his supporters -- was waiting for the governor when he arrived.

"I was like, 'Oh, man, I wish we had a booth there,' " Kaine said. "But you know, they've got to make the decisions about where they're going to be, and I was able to go over and talk to people for them."

Deeds has also elicited Democrats' grumbles for having a small presence when it comes to the ground-level organization regarded as crucial to victory. Yard signs have been sparse, although more popped up in Northern Virginia over the weekend. Local activists have reported receiving few, if any, phone calls seeking their help on the campaign.

On Monday, campaign manager Joe Abbey said volunteers knocked on about 75,000 doors last weekend. He said those volunteers, as well as phone-bank workers, are armed with years of data collected by national and state Democrats about voters, where they live and whom they vote for. That data have been crucial to recent Democratic victories in Virginia, including Obama's last year.

"The activists are battle-tested," he said. "The voter files are battle-tested."

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