Running Against Obamaism

As the Washington Post points out, Republican candidate Bob McDonnell is nationalizing the Virginia gubernatorial race. That might have sounded crazy a few months ago, taking on a popular president in a state that went Democrat for the first time since LBJ, but it doesn’t seem like a bad plan now. As the Post notes, this may work as the public, including the more conservative electorate likely to turn out for a gubernatorial race in an off year, sees Obama and the Beltway Democrats slinging further and further to the Left:

“Socialized medicine” is being debated on Capitol Hill,” McDonnell said. “New intrusions into the free enterprise system” have emerged in Obama’s response to the recession. Federal legislation making it easier for unions to organize “undermines our right-to-work laws, and every employer in Virginia agrees with me on that,” he said.

That puts Deeds in a bind. Does he buck the president or embrace an agenda far more liberal than that of the electorate which will vote in November? So far, Deeds has been stalling, trying to avoid taking a stance on card check and cap-and-trade, but that’s not going to work for long. Instead, it may only fuel concerns that he is wishy-washy and a bit unfocused.

All this takes place in the context of a Virginia tradition dating back to 1977. In each gubernatorial race since then, the party that won the White House lost the gubernatorial race. McDonnell’s strategy then plays into the independent streak in Virginia and seems well timed to match the rough patch in which Obama finds himself. Moreover, it places him on the offensive, siding with both conservatives and independents who want to push back against a more liberal national government than many imagined they were getting.

If it works, Republicans will take this as a sign of Obama’s vulnerability and of their improved prospects in the 2010 congressional race. And if not, Obama-Pelosi-Reid will take this as a referendum on their left-leaning agenda. Elections are about choices, and Virginia’s gubernatorial race is turning out to be a more stark and significant one than many anticipated.