tight Race in Virginia as 3 Democrats Vie for Governor
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By IAN URBINA
Published: June 8, 2009
RICHMOND, Va. — When Virginia voters go to the polls Tuesday in the Democratic primary for governor, they will choose among three candidates who have distinguished themselves more by personality than politics during the fight to continue their party’s recent winning streak in this historically conservative state.
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The candidates are Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee; State Senator R. Creigh Deeds; and Brian J. Moran, a former member of the House of Delegates. The winner will oppose the Republican candidate, Robert F. McDonnell, in November. Mr. McDonnell, a former state legislator, was Virginia’s attorney general until he resigned in February to seek the governorship.
The incumbent governor, Tim Kaine, a Democrat, is prevented by law from seeking a consecutive term.
The race is one of two elections for governor this year — the other is in New Jersey — and both national parties are strongly involved.
A close ally of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. McAuliffe, 52, is a multimillionaire businessman with an outsize personality who held an early lead in statewide polls based largely on his ability to out-talk and outspend his opponents.
But his supercaffeinated style, dependence on out-of-state donors and lack of experience in state politics have undercut his popularity among some voters and undermined his claim that his national stature makes him the man to beat Mr. McDonnell.
And Mr. McAuliffe’s pitch that his proven skill at making money — as a banker, real estate developer, credit-card marketer and an Internet venture capitalist — will bring prosperity to all Virginia comes as public mistrust of millionaires is high and unemployment in some parts of the state is near 14 percent.
“My argument is that if you’re looking for someone new, someone who hasn’t been part of the partisan bickering in Richmond, a business guy to come in and shake things up, then you should take a look at me,” Mr. McAuliffe said Friday in an interview between campaign stops in Richmond and Charlottesville.
After most polls had the three candidates in a statistical dead heat for most of the race, Mr. Deeds opened up a slight lead over the weekend, but many voters were still undecided and turnout was expected to be low.
Both parties see more than a governor’s seat at stake, with Virginia the latest front in the national red state-blue state battle.
Democrats have defeated Republicans in two successive United States Senate elections in Virginia and held the governor’s office for two terms, and Barack Obama carried the state last year, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Republicans, though, say they are hopeful in this race because Mr. McDonnell has generally polled better than any of the three Democrats running to oppose him. Republicans say they would strengthen their hand nationally if they can beat the Democrats vying to replace Mr. Kaine, the Democratic national chairman, in a state that Mr. Obama has courted over the past four years.
The three Democrats agree on most major issues. Each supports the death penalty, enforcement of immigration laws and higher salaries for teachers. Each has said he will bring new jobs and high-speed rail to Virginia. Mr. Moran opposes drilling for oil and gas off the state’s coast, while Mr. McAuliffe backs limited drilling for natural gas only and Mr. Deeds is open to drilling for either. Their campaign strategies and personal styles pose the starkest contrasts.
Folksy and halting in his public speaking, Mr. Deeds, 51, is from Bath County, in the state’s rural western sector. In 2005, he ran against Mr. McDonnell for attorney general, losing by fewer than 400 votes. The tortoise to Mr. McAuliffe’s hare, Mr. Deeds was the first candidate to enter the race in 2007. He has been traveling the state ever since, gradually rising in the polls as he has met with voters in small groups to promote his legislative record.
“The knock on Mr. Deeds is that he’s a nice guy — an odd insult,” The Washington Post editorial board wrote in endorsing him.
Hailing his character, the newspaper said Mr. Deeds was the only candidate with a record of tough stands, including calling for an increased gasoline tax to tackle a shortfall in the transportation budget. “Our judgment, from watching Mr. Deeds over the years,” it said, “is that he is more politically astute than his ‘aw, shucks’ persona might suggest.”
Having spent two decades as a prosecutor and lawmaker, Mr. Moran, 49, also claims deep roots in the state. His approach, though, has been to argue that he is best equipped to win in November because he is the most progressive Democrat in the race and the most able to rally support from liberal voters in Northern Virginia, the fastest-growing part of the state.
“Unlike my friend Creigh, I support the Second Amendment, but I don’t dance whenever the N.R.A. tells me to,” said Mr. Moran, jabbing at Mr. Creeds, who won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in his 2005 attorney general race.
Mr. Moran, from Alexandria, added that he was the only candidate who had said he would try to repeal the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning contractual agreements to sanctify same-sex relationships.
In the end, Tuesday’s result may come down, as it often does, to infrastructure, said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.
To win, Mr. McAuliffe will need his get-out-the-vote machine to counter the help Mr. Moran is likely to receive from the two dozen or so mayors and local elected officials who are expected to push their constituents to go to the polls and support him, Mr. Sabato said.
Still, as the Democrats look to November, they will need to close the gap with Mr. McDonnell, who has raised about $8.9 million. Mr. McAuliffe leads the Democrats, with roughly $6.9 million; Mr. Moran is next, having reported raising $3.8 million, with Mr. Deeds at $2.8 million.
Sign in to Recommend Next Article in US (7 of 22) » A version of this article appeared in print on June 9, 2009, on page A17 of the New York edition.