As a Virginian and a member of the Republican Governor's Association, I'm glad that the Democratic primary is settled and now the campaign for Virginia governor can begin. State Senator Creigh Deeds won the primary last night, after trailing by double digits less than three weeks ago.
The stakes in this year's Virginia gubernatorial race are the highest ever. Even more than New Jersey, the other major off-year contest, the gubernatorial elections in my backyard are predictive of trends that will play out further into the cycle. I know that many felt our best chance would be against Clinton's money man, Terry McAuliffe, but this Virginia Republican is not concerned. This race is not going to be about who our opponent is. We will win because of what the Republican Party is, and who and what we represent.
I believe our nominee, Bob McDonnell, is a major rising star in this party, and this race will prove it. For one thing, Bob brings a number of qualities to the race that previous GOP candidates in Virginia did not have. Better still, he carries none of their flaws.
He is a young polished lawyer and an Army veteran who grew up in liberal (though much less liberal back in the day) Northern Virginia and lives with his family in conservative Virginia Beach, so he can connect with young suburban families in a way that Jerry Kilgore had trouble doing in 2005. McDonnell is a great example of the kind of candidate who doesn't have to "choose" between sticking to his values and appealing to moderate voters.
That gives him a real advantage over Creigh Deeds, whose economic platform is more of a populist shtick targeted to the United Mine Workers than a sensible roads and schools plan for I-95 commuters. McDonnell cares about the issues Virginians care about, like transportation funding, college tuition costs, energy policy, taxes, and, of course, job creation. So Northern Virginia will be something it hasn’t been in recent elections: A battleground leaning Republican.
And Republicans will be more excited about McDonnell than the Democrats are about Deeds. It’s clear where he stands on the issues that are important to the Republicans Party, including taxes, religion and honoring our troops. Deeds, on the other hand, is going to have to activate his base and crank up the turn out better than he did last time around. In doing so, he is going have to walk the line between Prius drivers in Arlington and NASCAR fans in Bristol. He’s not an anti-gun zealot, which won’t please pastors in Hampton, and wants to soak the entrepreneurs and businesses on taxes, which won’t impress technology executives in Reston. And there should be no forgetting that Virginia is the new battle ground in big labor's battle to expand its power. In a state that appreciates the right to work and still tilts conservative, the advantage goes to Bob.
McDonnell has also won respect on both sides of the aisle for his hard work. He's been an energetic and eager candidate, with a great resume of accomplishment that he can actually run on. As I said on Hardball this week, governors are our best candidates and that's a bench we must develop.
This won't be the first time that McDonnell and Deeds have squared off in a statewide election. I still remember their 2005 race for Attorney General, where McDonnell beat Deeds by 323 votes. As someone who has been around politics and Virginia a long time, I believe McDonnell has what it takes to beat Deeds again.
In the months ahead, voters will come to see how he has been an experienced and steady hand in Richmond, and that he is the best bet to put this great Commonwealth back on the path of hard work and reform.
The national media will be watching, and the rest of the Republican Party should too.