When I was a kid there was a popular expression, “The opera ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” Well, in the case of the Virginia gubernatorial race, it ain’t over yet, but the fat lady is certainly in costume and warming up. And while it doesn’t look good for Deeds, who is behind by about ten points according to the latest realclearpolitics average, he still has at least a chance. However, his main problems at this point is that he has still not found a message which might resonate with Virginia voters, and many prominent Democrats, including the White House are already writing him off.
Deeds likes to compare himself to Harry Truman, the slow talking, inarticulate former President, who was famous for his plain speaking, and his comeback in the 1948 presidential election. Like Deeds virtually everybody wrote him off, and if Deeds wins in November it will be an upset on par with Truman’s reelection. In making the case for Deeds many point to his come from behind victory in the primary as a reason not to count him out. They also point out that Deeds trailed badly to McDonnell 4 years ago in their race for Attorney General and almost won, coming up short by less than one half of one percent.
However, both those cases are very different from today. In the primary Deeds was in a three way race, with weak opponents, who ignored Deeds and attacked each other. Indeed, Moran and McAuliffe spent much of the campaign tearing down each other while leaving Deeds unscathed, perhaps thinking that he was no threat. Also, Virginia Democrats were undecided until the end when the Post endorse him, and many became convinced that Deeds was the most elect able candidate, in other words they may not have been all that excited about him, but they thought he would give them the best chance of victory in November. In his race 4 years ago for attorney general, Deeds did make it close, but it clearly was a Democrat year, with Tim Kaine winning the race for Governor. This year the mood of the electorate is more favorable to Republicans.
There are three main reasons why Deeds is trailing badly. First he ran a very negative campaign, instead of a positive issues oriented campaign he chose to attack his opponent, even citing a 20 year old college paper. In tough times voters don't respond as well to negative attacks.
Second, Deeds ran as a liberal rather than a moderate Democrat, he shunned the formula that worked for Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and instead ran on abortion rights and higher taxes. Perhaps Deeds bought into the belief that Virginia is now a blue state, and running as a liberal could work. Certainly Democrats have done well recently, winning the last two gubernatorial races, and taking control of both of Virginia’s Senate seats. Despite this Virginia is not a liberal state; it is a swing state, which retains a slight tilt to the right. Instead of running as a fiscal conservative in the mold on Mark Warner, he chose the Jerry Baliles formula advocating higher taxes and more spending.
Third, he tried to paint McDonnell as an extreme right winger with radio ads claiming that McDonnell wanted to take the state back to the ‘Dark Ages’, (which took place in the 12th and 13th centuries) Most Virginians don’t except that portrait, rather, most hold a favorable opinion of McDonnell, and hardly see him as an ultra conservative. In fact McDonnell is running better than most Republicans in Northern Virginia, and has a decent chance of winning Fairfax County. By attacking McDonnell the way he did Deeds hurt his own credibility.
For Deeds to have any chance he needs to find a positive message which gives voters a reason to vote for him. Can this happen, perhaps, but I wouldn't count on it. The fat lady is almost ready.