Politics

Will Virginia Go Red for Governor’s Race Today?

Robert F. McDonnell, the next governor of Virginia.

That will become a reality Tuesday night, if recent polls are anywhere close to being correct.

“At this point it’s pretty hard to see [Democrat] Creigh Deeds pulling it out,” Public Policy Polling President Dean Debnam recently wrote in his polling analysis. “The numbers have been moving consistently in [Republican] Bob McDonnell’s direction over the last month. There would have to be some sort of ‘October Surprise’ to change the course of the race.”

In more than a half dozen polls conducted between Oct. 21 and Oct. 29, McDonnell holds an 11 point to 17 point advantage over Deeds, suggesting late-innings campaign rallies from former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama could not resuscitate — and may have hurt — the Democrat’s chances. The polls also show that Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will win a second term and that Republican Ken Cuccinelli will be the state’s next attorney general.

In the governor’s race, the polls say McDonnell is doing a better job of wooing independent voters — 61 percent in a recent Washington Post poll of likely voters — and that Republicans are simply more motivated than Democrats to go to the polls this year. The latest PPP polls says McDonnell is winning 94 percent of the Republican vote while Deeds is at only 84 percent of the Democratic vote. It also shows McDonnell has a 59-34 lead with independents.

That leaves Deeds, 51, heading into election nigh saying what most trailing politicians say in the final days of a campaign — the only poll that matters is the one on election night.

The struggles of the Deeds’ campaign have been well documented.

Following a competitive primary in which he surprised many by defeating former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and former state Rep. Brian Moran, Deeds has struggled to develop a message that energizes voters. Case in point: even with Gov. Time Kaine as the new head of the DNC, McDonnell has enjoyed a bigger campaign war chest than Deeds.

Deeds also has shot himself in the foot. In September, the Democrat gave an erratic and confusing response to repeated questions from reporters on whether he would support new taxes for transportation, saying he would not raise general fund taxes, but that he would sign a bipartisan bill to fix roads that included new tax revenues.

Deeds later tried to clarify his stance in The Washington Post, writing an op-ed where he said, “I’ll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation — even if it includes new taxes.” But the damage was done.

The response exposed his at times shaky, erratic, style and appears to have fed into concerns about Deeds’ overall trustworthiness.

“McDonnell is overwhelmingly trusted more than Deeds on both taxes and government spending," according to Rasmussen Reports. "On the transportation issue, 45 percent trust McDonnell while 35 percent trust Deeds.”

Deeds’ stance on taxes – along with his support of a repeal of the state’s gun law that restricts Virginians from purchasing one gun a month – cost him the support of former Gov. Doug Wilder, who refused to back the Democrat. Wilder, the nation’s first black governor, still holds significant sway among African American voters, a voting bloc Deeds needs strong support from if he hopes to pull an upset on election night.

McDonnell, meanwhile, has come off as a more polished and likable candidate. Rasmussen Reports says 62 percent of voters in the state have a favorable view of McDonnell, while 47 percent have a favorable view of Deeds.

Many onlookers say McDonnell has run one of the stronger campaigns in recent Virginia history, sticking to a message about the need to create jobs and improve the economy while pointing out Deeds confusing statements on taxes in a series of television commercials. He also has offered a transportation plan that he says could funnel millions into new roads. (That could cause McDonnell future problems as even some Republicans question whether his plan can raise as much money as he says.)

The biggest blow to McDonnell’s campaign was a graduate school theses he authored when he was a 34-year-old graduate student at Pat Robertson’s law school, Regent University. In it, McDonnell, now 55, wrote that working working women and feminists were "detrimental" to the family. He said tax policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators"and described 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples as “as "illogical.”

Deeds focused heavily on the thesis, using it to paint McDonnell as a social extremist who has been falsely parading around as a moderate. McDonnell did take a hit in the polls, but quickly rebounded thanks in part to public support from his daughters and women who had worked under him when he was attorney general.

McDonnell was also able to point to the early and unexpected support of Democrat Sheila C. Johnson, who crossed party lines this summer to endorse his candidacy. The endorsement held significant weight because Johnson, a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, had chaired Gov. Kaine’s inaugural committee.

Asked about McDonnell’s apparent success, state Sen. Ken Stolle, a Virginia Beach Republican and longtime McDonnell pal, said, “Politics is as simple as a candidate convincing people that they share a common vision for the future of the community and they have a willingness or opportunity to provide that common view for the future of the community."

"More than anything else, what makes Bob the candidate that he is, whether you like or don’t like his politics, is that when you sit down with Bob you know he is honest and is not blowing smoke in your face. People who listen to him believe what he says. A lot of politicians and candidates do not have that.

To which he added, "Creigh, who I consider a friend, never was able to convince the public that he had a vision for Virginia.”

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