Today’s New York Times reports on what seems to be the thought from some Virginia Democrats that they nominated the wrong candidate:
WASHINGTON — When State Senator R. Creigh Deeds defeated Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic Party chairman and confidante of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to be the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia, the argument among many Democrats was that Mr. Deeds — an easy-going, moderate Democrat from rural Virginia — would be the stronger candidate in a general election.
But with this closely-watched election less than a month away, and Mr. Deeds struggling against Robert McDonnell, the Republican former attorney general, it is hard not to forgive some Virginia Democrats for thinking that they might have been better off with Mr. McAuliffe at the top of the ticket. This is no small thing since a defeat for Democrats in Virginia would be a decided setback for this White House, particularly after President Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state last year since 1964. Democrats have held the Virginia governor’s seat for eight years.
The most recent Washington Post poll showed Mr. McDonnell leading Mr. Deeds by a 53 percent to 44 percent margin; while there is certainly time for Mr. Deeds to turn things around, his prospects right now appear weak, reflected by the fact that he can not even get Mr. Obama to agree to come campaign for him in the state.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that in terms of campaign skills and ability to go toe-to-toe — both with McDonnell and national Republicans who have spent considerable resources on this race — McAuliffe has more experience and more skills,” said Robert D. Holsworth, a Virginia political analyst. “McAuliffe always had the big advantages and big liabilities. But those advantages would have been considerable in the race that this turned out to be.”
[B]ased at least on his own performance as a candidate in the three-way Virginia Democratic primary — not to mention his years as a television and campaign surrogate for the Clintons — Mr. McAuliffe might well have had a decided advantage over Mr. Deeds in money and campaign skills, a view expressed by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Consider this: Perhaps the single most politically devastating moment for Mr. Deeds was when he gave a halting and fumbling answer, in a cluster of reporters and television cameras, about whether he would raise taxes to pay for repairing the state’s transportation system. Republicans have used clips from it to produce two of the most devastating advertisements of the campaign, raising questions at once about his views on taxes and his basic candor.
Mr. McAuliffe was given to his excess. But years of doing television interviews, on forums ranging from “Meet the Press” to scrums of local reporters — first defending the Clintons and than advancing himself and his party — paid off in producing a candidate who was an assured television presence.
Mr. Deeds seemed baffled by the question of whether he would raise taxes to pay for highway repair, one of the most fundamental questions of this campaign. Mr. McAuliffe, ever the student of the Clintons, had spent months evading the question with bland proclamations about having to find a revenue source.
More than that, Mr. McAuliffe’s central campaign message— that he was a business leader who had created jobs in private enterprise and would do the same for the state — might have worked well in a general election playing out against a backdrop of continued job losses. Mr. McDonnell pretty much embraced it immediately after the primary, a period in which Mr. Deeds went dark to concentrate on fundraising and figuring out a campaign message.
Of course, you can’t prove what might have happened in a situation like this. The McDonnell campaign would have undoubtably tired to paint McAuliffe as a carpetbagger who has closer ties to Washington, D.C. than Virginia, and his association with the Clinton Administration would have also been an issue as well. Furthermore, the image of McAuliffe as an able campaigner must surely be diminished by the fact that he wasn’t able to beat Deeds and Moran in a primary race and didn’t even put together a strong enough GOTV effort in what was supposed to be his strongest part of the state.
At the same time, though, it’s clear that a good portion of the problems that Deeds is facing are related, directly or indirectly, to his own problems as a candidate. With someone else at the top of the ticket — and for some reason the Times article doesn’t discuss Brian Moran at all — they would probably have been much more competitive.