Criticism by Obama aides exasperates Va. Democrats
Deeds says he was unaware of conflicts over race strategy

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 24, 2009

Virginia Democratic candidate R. Creigh Deeds said Friday that he was confused and frustrated by statements from senior aides to President Obama that Deeds had rejected their advice in running his campaign for governor as some state party activists denounced what they saw as a betrayal by advisers to a president they helped elect a year ago.

Deeds said he was puzzled by the comments from unnamed Obama administration officials who said that he had virtually no chance to defeat Republican Robert F. McDonnell and that such a loss would reflect on Deeds's failings rather than on Obama's popularity.

They said that Deeds, who has been trailing in the polls, coordinated poorly with the White House and failed to adequately reach out to the constituencies that helped Obama become the first Democrat in 40 years to win Virginia.

"It is frustrating to read, because that's not what we've been hearing from anybody over there," Deeds said. "I'm just not sure where the talk is coming from. It just doesn't make sense. . . . There's been no disagreements between us of which I'm aware."

The Democratic National Committee, under the leadership of Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), has invested heavily in the race, and Obama will rally with Deeds in Norfolk on Tuesday.

Kaine called the remarks "not helpful."

"You don't do this for as long as we've done it and for as long as Creigh's done it without having your own internal sense of having good days and bad days," he said.

Deeds said his effort had seen a surge of volunteers Friday. Activists at an afternoon rally with Sen. James Webb (D) in Alexandria said they were eager to prove anonymous naysayers wrong, even those from their party's top echelon.

But some Democrats also expressed deep worry that the public disagreement with Washington could hurt efforts to turn out the Democratic base, which polls have shown lacks enthusiasm for Deeds, and could damage Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general and the House of Delegates.

"When it comes out of the White House, this Monday morning quarterbacking stuff before the election even happens, it's devastating to the whole ticket," said David "Mudcat" Saunders, a political strategist who worked to elect now-U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) governor in 2001 and Webb to the U.S. Senate in 2006. "I think Obama ought to find who did this to us, and I think he ought to fire 'em. It's totally without character."

Paul Goldman, a Richmond activist and former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, called the tactics "bush league," an attempt to send a message to Democrats about crossing the White House without regard to the damage it might cause the state party and its candidates.

"It's take-no-prisoners," he said. "It's exactly the kind of thing we voted out of office."

Republicans largely sat back, content to let Democrats make the critique of Deeds's effort that they have been advancing for weeks: that the campaign has relied too heavily on negative attacks against McDonnell, particularly over his controversial 1989 master's thesis and his strong opposition to abortion.

Campaigning at a flower shop in Arlington County, McDonnell said he's not taking the race for granted. "The mission is to win on Election Day and not to feel good 10 days out," he said.

McDonnell sidestepped the issue of whether Obama has hurt Deeds in Virginia but argued, as he has for weeks, that the policies of the Democratic-led Congress have alienated voters.

Deeds made a late pivot Friday to economic issues, detouring from his campaign schedule to meet with workers at an International Paper mill in Franklin city that company officials announced Thursday will be closing, resulting in the loss of 1,100 jobs. In a late-afternoon call with reporters, Deeds called for providing new emergency benefits in areas such as Franklin that experience a 2 percent jump in unemployment in a month.

He said those benefits should include a $100 increase in weekly unemployment benefits and access to Medicaid or emergency loans for laid-off workers to buy health insurance. He also called on the General Assembly to accept $125 million in federal stimulus funds for unemployment benefits, aid that Republicans rejected during the last legislative session.

Republicans, including McDonnell, argued that the stimulus money came with unacceptable federal mandates and that accepting it would have required expanding unemployment benefits in a way that would raise costs for businesses when the federal aid ran out.

The debate was the subject of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign funded by the Democratic Governors Association in the spring, when Deeds was engaged in a three-way primary race for the Democratic nomination, and he has been widely criticized by Democrats for not making it more central to his general-election effort since then.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for McDonnell, accused Deeds of playing politics with the plant closure and said Deeds would raise taxes, which would hurt workers.

Staff writers Amy Gardner and Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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