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In this show, special guest stars speak for Deeds

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009

As Paul Revere might put it, the surrogates are coming, the surrogates are coming!

With national attention focused on Virginia, which has one of only two gubernatorial races in the country this year, the commonwealth's candidates have the pick of their parties' national stars to invite to campaign events before Nov. 3.

It's a ritual for the final weeks of big campaigns, as famous headliners pump up volunteers, bring in last-minute donations and draw television cameras to the candidate to provide some precious free media for the effort.

But this year's roundup reveals some of the damage suffered by the Republican brand in recent years.

Consider this:

Democrat R. Creigh Deeds will be joined by those at the pinnacle of his party's leadership. Both of Virginia's sitting senators will help, one of whom is a popular former governor. He's also got Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who is also head of the Democratic National Committee.

He held a fundraiser with former vice president Al Gore. Another recent morning, he was hobnobbing with Vice President Biden.

On Tuesday, it was former president Bill Clinton.

And next week, the big kahuna, President Obama, comes to Virginia to rally the troops.

Obama has plenty of skeptics who think he might be hurting Deeds's effort. But he did win 53 percent of the vote in Virginia just 12 months ago, and a recent Washington Post poll put his approval rating at 58 percent in the state.

And Republican Robert F. McDonnell?

With Republicans charging that Virginia has been trending Democratic in recent election cycles largely over anger with former president George W. Bush, Bush is pretty much a non-starter.

Same goes, times two, for former vice president Dick Cheney.

Controversial Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele did an event for McDonnell in May but hasn't been back.

McDonnell had once considered bringing in former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who might ignite some excitement with conservatives. According to a Palin spokeswoman, he personally asked Palin to come campaign as recently as June.

But apparently, in the wake of Palin's resignation as governor and her widely panned Facebook message about Obama's health-care initiative proposing "death panels," McDonnell thought better of the invite. He told her people "no, thank you" in August.

That's left McDonnell with an assortment of lesser-known elected officials, largely other governors who have lent a hand in part because they are laying the groundwork for their 2012 presidential campaigns.

He's called on surrogates such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee did several events in the spring.

Last weekend, McDonnell held a rally with his party's former presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who managed to get through last year's election with his personal reputation fairly intact and remains a particular draw with veterans. But McCain doesn't exactly bring with him the sheen of a winner.

The events have been helpful enough -- fundraisers with party leaders brought in more than a half-million dollars for McDonnell's campaign last month. And the campaign was able to release a video Monday of McCain telling an enthusiastic crowd in Virginia Beach that McDonnell will bring fiscal discipline to Richmond.

But it's not exactly like watching the president of the United States circle over a campaign rally in Marine One.

Not that the glamour of a presidential visit is any guarantee. Four years ago, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore appeared at a packed election eve rally with Bush in Richmond. The next day, he lost to Kaine.

Sometimes, surrogates present complications.

When Deeds attended a fundraiser with Gore at a home in McLean last week, Republicans used it as an opportunity to hammer Deeds on federal climate-change legislation, given Gore's association with the effort to end global warming.

"It is interesting that while [McDonnell] is trying create jobs in the Southwest and other parts of Virginia, Creigh is embracing Al Gore and the cap and trade that would be devastating on the industries down there that Bob's trying to develop," said Pat Mullins, state GOP chairman, in a release.

(Deeds responded that he does not support the cap-and-trade bill pending in Congress. "Frankly, we've asked a lot of people for help, and the people who say yes, they get to help. We were honored to have the former vice president," he said Saturday.)

Polls have shown McDonnell with a strong lead over Deeds with about two weeks left before Election Day. If the Republican holds on to win the race, reversing a decade of Democratic gains in Virginia, he won't just become governor of the commonwealth.

He might find himself in demand as a surrogate all over the country come campaign season 2010.

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