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After loss, Va.'s Deeds tries to regain his footing

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, left, holds his hands together and cries as his wife, Pam console daughter Susanna, while son Gus hugs sister Rebecca at the doorway behind the stage, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, before Creigh Deeds makes the concession speech at the Westin Hotel in Richmond, Va. Amanda Deeds is hidden behind her mother and sister. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, left, holds his hands together and cries as his wife, Pam console daughter Susanna, while son Gus hugs sister Rebecca at the doorway behind the stage, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, before Creigh Deeds makes the concession speech at the Westin Hotel in Richmond, Va. Amanda Deeds is hidden behind her mother and sister. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Hyunsoo Leo Kim) (Hyunsoo Leo Kim - AP)

Unlike his Democratic Party primary opponents who were not in office, however, Deeds could not put off returning to the public arena. When the General Assembly convened in Richmond, he was there, and colleagues said it was obvious that he was still smarting. Deeds told them he felt as if he had dragged the team down and cost his party six House seats.

"He seemed down in the dumps," said Sen. John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke).

Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax), who has known Deeds since they entered the House as freshmen, said she dined with Deeds once during the session and skirted discussion of the gubernatorial election.

"If we were going to talk about it, he was going to be the one to bring it up," Puller said. "We had a good time talking about the good ol' days."

Puller said she also heard that the relentless demands of public life had cost Deeds his marriage. "I said, 'I just heard this about you. I'm very sorry.' He said, 'So am I.' "

With time, Deeds regained his footing. Outside events, such as Scott Brown's stunning Senate upset in Massachusetts, lent credence to the view that Deeds's loss owed something to a powerful change in the nation's political atmosphere.

"I don't think Jesus Christ could have won that race in Virginia if he had been a Democrat," said Robert J. Taylor, a lawyer in Delaware who attended college with Deeds. But Taylor said that when he thinks of Deeds, he thinks of a Hank Williams Jr. song: "A Country Boy Can Survive."

Recalling Deeds's surviving a serious accident as a boy, Taylor said Deeds never shied from long odds. Early on Election Day, Taylor drove with Deeds from Alexandria to Warm Springs, arriving about 4 a.m. Two hours later, Deeds rose to vote, knowing that polls foretold a resounding defeat.

"Winners are the ones who aren't afraid to lose. That's the way he lived his life," Taylor said.

In an interview during the session, Deeds seemed unenthusiastic talking about anything except music. As blues wafted from his Apple laptop, Deeds explained why the Band's Brown Album, as it's known by fans, might be the perfect rock-and-roll record. An hour passed before he edged into discussion of his campaign against Robert F. McDonnell, its aftermath and the sting of losing to the same man who had beaten him by a fraction of a percentage point four years earlier in the race for attorney general.

Things were going well, Deeds said, although he was aware colleagues were avoiding him. He expressed pride in his campaign, saying he had given it his all. He said he had already said everything about the election that he wanted to say and did not need more media attention. He admitted he was not socializing much. His wedding band was missing.

Deeds, who married his college sweetheart, Pam, on Feb. 10, 1981, had told friends the marriage was over, a casualty of a nearly 20-year pursuit of a lifelong ambition that kept him away from home. He declined to talk about it in interviews. Pam Deeds, in an interview last week, said the divorce was finalized Feb. 4. She, too, declined to comment further.


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