“They got a bounce for one day and it didn’t last.”
That’s what Ed Gillespie, general chairman of Republican Bob McDonnell’s campaign for governor of Virginia, predicted to me two weeks ago about the campaign of the Democratic nominee, State Sen. Creigh Deeds.
Onetime Republican National Chairman Gillespie was right — and then some. In the first statewide survey by Public Policy Polling since Deeds’ big primary win last month, former State Attorney General McDonnell holds a lead of 49% to 43% statewide. According to Public Policy Polling, “McDonnell’s lead is due largely to a 54% to 33% advantage among independents.”
But Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, also noted that the race is similar to that for governor of the Old Dominon four years ago. As Debnam pointed out, “The question now is whether McDonnell can sustain it, unlike [’05 nominee and then-State Attorney General] Jerry Kilgore, or whether Deeds will come from behind to win as [Democrat Tim] Kaine did.”
No one I talked to in Virginia Republican Party circles wants to badmouth past candidates for governor, even those who lost the races in ’01 and ’05. But there is evidence that McDonnell — former state legislator, prosecutor, and attorney general — is a better “fit’ for the party.
In 2001, Mark Earley [also state attorney general at the time] won a grueling nomination battle over then-Lieutenant Governor John Hager. Scars from their fight never healed, and Democrat Mark Warner (now U.S. Senator) won in the fall by a margin of 52% to 47%. In ’05, Republican Kilgore had no problem wrapping up the nomination but was widely criticized for a general election campaign in which he focus too much on issues that mattered less, such as his strong support for the death penalty. Democrat Kaine won by a margin of 52% to 46%.
This year, McDonnell wrapped up the nomination early on. Although his strong pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and pro-traditional marriage stands are well-known, the GOP nominee runs primarily on bread-and-butter issues: getting rid of barriers that keep businesses from creating private sector jobs in the state.
One Hager Republican from Richmond who worked hard for her man and never got over Early winning (and never liked Kilgore) signaled she is back. In a recent e-mail, the lady wrote me: “Count my votes for Dems Warner and Kaine as the last for that bunch and I have resented Kaine since Day One. I think he’s done a bloody bad job — can’t even get the potholes filled down here. Too busy saving the world and handing out free lunches. And I have several Repub friends who are ready ‘to come home.’ Perhaps the McDonnell campaign will like me, especially since I can probably help bring some of the disenfranchised Repubs home again.’”