By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009; B03
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Monday that Democrat R. Creigh Deeds lost his campaign for governor because he was unable to energize his base, falling into a Republican trap that led him to shrink from the president and his policies.
In a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Post, Kaine (D) said Deeds squandered the opportunity to sell his own appealing life story as a guy who had overcome long odds and economic disadvantage. Instead, the rural state senator took the advice of campaign consultants who wrongly assumed Deeds's Democratic support was solid and believed he should instead focus on wooing independents by attacking Republican Robert F. McDonnell.
"After the [June] primary was done, his advisers basically said, distance yourself from the president. We think we have our base locked down, we've got to win independents. And we're going to win by being negative about McDonnell," Kaine said. "That was the basic strategy they pursued, despite some significant urging to the contrary."
Asked about his own advice to Deeds, who lost to McDonnell on Nov. 3 by 17 percentage points, Kaine said: "I'd rather not talk about my personal conversations. But what I will say is that I always believed from the very beginning that the paradigm in Virginia had changed and that the way to win the race was to energize voters who had demonstrated they would vote for Democrats. That I did advise him very, very early. I advised all the candidates, prior to the primary, that was a path to victory."
Kaine's post-election analysis echoes criticism of the Deeds campaign that emerged from Washington and top aides to President Obama even before the election. It is a narrative that shields Obama from counterarguments by Republicans, who have contended that Virginia voters backed McDonnell to send a signal that they were displeased with Obama's leadership.
It is also a critique that Kaine, as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, might be hoping will persuade congressional Democrats to be more supportive of Obama's policies, not less, as they contemplate their reelection efforts next year.
Kaine said the key to victory for Democrats in a highly competitive Virginia is recognizing that party members need not be "apologetic" about their affiliation to find success. He noted that about 200,000 more people voted in the Democratic primary for president on a frigid February day in 2008 than cast ballots for Deeds this year, and said McDonnell successfully spooked Deeds by suggesting that Virginians had grown anxious about the Democratic agenda.
"I think the issue of being nervous about the Virginia electorate was overdone and I think Creigh did exactly what the McDonnell campaign hoped he would do, which was distance himself from the president and national issues," Kaine said.
As he prepares to leave office, Kaine said he was pleased that Virginia's economy has remained dynamic, with unemployment below the national average, and that its education system has been widely praised.
He also said that Virginia benefits from more national attention because of its status as a competitive state in presidential politics.
He expressed optimism that Democrats will extend their one-vote majority in the state Senate by winning a special election to replace Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, a Fairfax County Republican who was elected attorney general.