Primary Hinges On Voter Turnout

Democrats Hoping To Be Governor Going Full Throttle

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Virginia voters go to the polls today to select the Democratic standard-bearer for governor against Republican Robert F. McDonnell, an outcome that is likely to rest with a few hundred thousand voters but could chart the course of the Democratic Party in the once solidly conservative state.

Polls will be open statewide from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. as voters choose between state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Alexandria delegate Brian Moran.

With surveys showing remarkable volatility in the race's final days and election officials predicting low turnout, all three campaigns have agreed that victory will come to the candidate whose supporters are energized enough to visit the polls on a muggy and possibly stormy June day. Voters do not register by party in Virginia, so Democrats, Republicans and independents can all participate.

"My view of the world is there are enough voters out there for any one of them to win. The secret is finding them and motivating them to go vote," said C. Richard Cranwell, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, who has not endorsed any candidate. "This election is about turnout, turnout, turnout."

As of Thursday, slightly more than 12,000 Virginians had requested absentee ballots -- smaller numbers than in 2005 and 2006 -- a possible indication that fewer people intend to vote today.

The Democratic Party, once an outgunned minority in Virginia, has seen a dramatic return to power during the past decade as voters embraced a succession of pragmatic moderates. This is the first contested Democratic primary for governor in more than 30 years, however, and it could provide a window into the mind-set of Democratic voters.

Two of the most recent Democrats elected statewide -- James Webb for the Senate in 2006 and Mark R. Warner as governor in 2001 and senator in 2008 -- are moderates who appealed to both urban and rural voters. But the 2005 election of Timothy M. Kaine as governor began what some see as a gradual shift to the left.

"The party in Virginia is progressive but very cautious," said Democratic strategist Kristian Denny Todd, who is not affiliated with any campaign but who is a colleague of a top Moran adviser.

Voters will also choose a Democratic nominee to face Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R). Jody Wagner, a former secretary of finance from Virginia Beach, is running against Michael Signer, a campaign strategist and national security expert from Arlington County. Today's election will also determine the Democratic nominees for 12 House of Delegates races, including four in Northern Virginia: two in Fairfax and one each in Arlington and Prince William County. The parties are preparing for a November fight over control of the chamber.

In the governor's race, Moran, who spent 20 years as a prosecutor in Arlington and a delegate from Alexandria, has reached out to party progressives in hopes of a big win in Northern Virginia, where his brother is a congressman. He is relying in part on a raft of local officials to assist him statewide.

Moran's final day of campaigning included a rally of about 250 supporters in front of Alexandria City Hall in Old Town during the lunch hour. Standing under a blazing sun, he promised to expand access to medical and dental care, block off-shore drilling and repeal a constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage.

"All along, I've been talking to voters about just how important this election is," Moran, 49, told the crowd. "We made history electing Barack Obama in the fall, but we need a partner for President Obama in the governor's office, and I intend to be that governor."

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