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What Is the Virginia Gubernatorial Race About?

Ed Gillespie, Bob McDonnell’s general-campaign chairman, held a conference call primarily for local media on the state of the race. Gillespie made clear that his candidate caught a break when Creigh Deeds declared himself in favor of a tax increase in a time of recession, a position that Gillespie claims will force every other candidate in the election to take a position for or against such a hike. It is, he claims, a “significant development” and the sort of “bright line” that many campaigns hope for. He also took time to crow about the string of endorsements and to attack Deeds, who is getting some flak from newspaper editorialists around the state for running a negative campaign without much (any?) policy detail.

But the race is narrowing, right? Gillespie did his best to convey the impression that the McDonnell team expected the race to narrow all along given the recent string of Democratic statewide wins. But Gillespie argues that Republican enthusiasm is sky high and reflected in polls of likely voters.

I asked about northern Virginia, where McDonnell grew up and that is home to one of seven of the state’s voters. Gillespie was candid that McDonnell doesn’t need to win there, only “mitigate big numbers against us.” None of the other questions from reporters touched even remotely on the Washington Post’s thesis obsession. Gillespie was asked about the Obama factor, which he described as a mixed blessing for Deeds, although he hastened to add that McDonnell was more than happy to talk about some Obama-favored policies, including cap-and-trade and card check, which aren’t popular in the state.

By any objective standard, the last week has been a successful one for McDonnell. The last weeks of the race, it seems, will be about who controls the narrative. If the race is about raising taxes in a recession and restoring some political balance to the state, then McDonnell is home free. If, however, the race devolves into a nasty food fight about social issues and anything other than bread-and-butter issues, Deeds, with the aid of a well-oiled state party and Big Labor get-out-the-vote operation, plainly has the chance to come from behind.

In less than 40 days we’ll know whose campaign theme prevailed.


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