By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Former president Bill Clinton dropped into Virginia on Tuesday to fire up the troops for Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, who is trying to catch Republican Robert F. McDonnell in the race for governor with Election Day just two weeks away.
Clinton spoke to about 300 supporters and a bank of TV cameras crowded into an office building in Tysons Corner. He praised Deeds's plans to create jobs, improve access to college, protect education funding and find new money to fix Virginia roads. At Clinton's side were Deeds and Clinton fundraiser Terry McAuliffe, whom Deeds defeated in the spring primary.
"I tried to help Terry McAuliffe beat Creigh Deeds, and we failed," Clinton said. "But I respect people who win and win fair and square. And I'm a lifetime Democrat and I like this guy. I like Creigh Deeds. I like the way he handled himself in the primary. I like the way he's handling himself in the general election. I believe he would be the best choice for the commonwealth of Virginia."
Clinton's visit comes at a time when Deeds is struggling to win support from Democratic voters who turned out for President Obama last year but are less excited, according to recent polls, than Virginia Republicans, who are eager to participate after eight years of electoral losses. To rally that base, Deeds will campaign with Obama next week.
The room was filled with local elected officials and party organizers, many of whom expressed private doubts about Deeds's ability to overcome McDonnell's lead.
But supporters greeted Clinton, McAuliffe and Deeds with excitement and cheers, which all three men urged the crowd to turn into action for the next two weeks to bring Democratic voters to the polls.
"Let me tell you, from a man who knows from experience: Don't pay any attention to the polls," said McAuliffe, who lost to Deeds after polls showed McAuliffe ahead for months. "Only one poll matters, and that's on Nov. 3."
Supporters wore T-shirts with the slogan, "Always Underestimated. Never overworked." Outside, along Route 123 in busy Tysons, hundreds of yard signs were staked into the embankment, spelling out "Deeds" for the afternoon rush to see.
But even volunteers recognized the steep hill they must climb.
"I'm one of those who loves wearing my 'I Voted' sticker, but I don't feel it with others," said Jaime Hagelstein, 31, of Springfield. "People aren't as excited."
As the governor of Arkansas for 12 years, Clinton said he knows more than most how important the governor's office is to job creation, schools and roads.
"Make sure that the electorate that shows up at the polls understands, that the people in Northern Virginia and in the southern part of the state and Tidewater and every region in the state understand what they have riding on this election," Clinton said. "It's jobs, and it's energy, and it's education, and it's health care, and it's having a sensible budget and it's not being in denial. Don't you let this election be determined by the denial strategy of people who only trigger the fear factor because the others were too busy to go vote."