In the Washington Post, a panel of state political watchers and politicians mull over whether Virginia’s gubernatorial race will turn on state or national issues. A year ago Democrats would have been happy to make it a national referendum; now they are hoping to separate Creigh Deeds from the Obama slide and growing antipathy among independents and conservative Democrats about his big-government agenda. Former congressman Tom Davis highlights the Republicans’ desire to make this about Obama’s overreach. He writes:
The race will be largely determined by national atmospherics. The last eight gubernatorial elections have been won by the opposite party of the sitting president. Virginia voters have used the election to send a message to Washington.
For eight years, George W. Bush was Democrats’ energy source. From Bush v. Gore through Iraq to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown, loathing of Bush drove Democratic turnout. Republicans were on the defensive, and Democrats made gains at the state and national levels.
Deeds tying himself to Obama, polarizing the abortion issue and attempting to run against Bush is a strategic misread and a formula for defeat. His troubles are multiplied by the state’s economic downturn and Gov. Tim Kaine’s disappointing part-time tenure, leaving few state accomplishments to run on.
As Larry Sabato reminds us, “It is no accident that the results of every gubernatorial election in Virginia since 1977 (and since 1989 in New Jersey, the other state with this election schedule) have been predicted by one simple variable — the party label of the president. The opposite party has won the statehouse every time.” We’ll see if this year breaks the string, but Deeds may turn out to have had the misfortune of running at precisely the time that moderate and conservative voters want nothing more than to send a message to Obama and the national Democrats. Timing, in politics as in life, is everything.