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Posted at 8:35 PM ET, 06/25/2009

The Virginia Governor's Race

By Vince Rinehart

The Post asked politicians, pundits and others to take stock of the Virginia gubernatorial race.

University of Baltimore law professor, author of “The Shad Treatment,” a fictionalized account of a Virginia governor’s race. He has donated a small sum to the Deeds campaign.

Since 1865, Virginians have habitually harked back to the past. But since 1965, they have led the way into the future. The state’s transformation from red to purple has been startlingly fast. But despite the recent dominance of Democrats in the state Senate and the Governor’s Mansion, purple is likely where it will remain. No statewide office can be counted on as an easy win for either party.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act restored full democracy to the South.

Beginning in 1969, Virginia gubernatorial elections became leading indicators of where the nation was heading politically. The moonlight-and-magnolia rhetoric became a kind of gesture, a reassuring ritual. The real argument is always about what happens next.
This election will be first and foremost a battle for Northern Virginia.

Neither candidate is a comfortable fit there. Creigh Deeds embodies the moderate western part of the state, which has always been mildly conservative, old-fashioned and more mountainous than Southern. Robert McDonnell, though he grew up in Northern Virginia, is a creature of the yeasty new Tidewater -- an area that mixes the influence of military families with an evangelical ferment as intense as any place in the country. McDonnell, with his military background and close relationship to the Pat Robertson religious-right empire, is as alien to the affluent northern suburbs as Deeds is.
Old-style mountain moderation will duel hard-right Christian politics in the suburban future-scape. The result will tell us much about the prospects for President Obama’s search for a new political center.

Director, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance

Virginia’s transportation program is broken. It’s partly due to recession-driven declines in state and federal revenue, but also to decades of failure by governors and legislators of both parties to provide new reliable state and regional funding.

A win for better transportation in November will require electing a governor -- and more legislators -- willing to acknowledge that Virginia’s transportation funding problem cannot be addressed simply by thinking outside the box, streamlining VDOT, drilling offshore and relying more on public-private partnerships, bonds, tolls and federal largess.

These elements are part of the solution. However, individually and collectively they fall far short of generating the necessary funds.

Candidates claiming that fund transfers from other programs are the solution have an obligation to identify which programs they would tap and how much they would cut.

A 10-cent gas tax increase would cost the average motorist $5 per month, generate $500 million per year and enable Virginia to maintain its highway and bridges. Absent media reports of its enactment, the public would never realize it had occurred because most of the increase would not show up at the pump.

A 1 percent dedicated statewide sales tax would generate upwards of $1 billion per year, allowing completion of most of Virginia’s most important strategic transportation priorities over the next 20 years. Such a levy would increase a $100 purchase to $101 but would result in huge taxpayer savings in time, energy and travel costs, not to mention frustration.

Better education, public safety, health care and housing aren’t free. Neither is better transportation. While no one expects candidates to campaign on platforms calling for higher taxes, fixing transportation will require electing those willing to support new levies dedicated to maintaining the system we have and building the system we need.

Governor of Virginia

When Virginians head to the polls this fall, they’ll choose whether to continue the style of governing that has served the Commonwealth for the last seven and a half years -- or to take our state in a different direction. My hunch is that the voters’ decision will be less emotional than pragmatic, and less ideological than practical.

The proof is in the past several elections. Democrats have consistently shown our commitment to building consensus and focusing on the outcomes that will benefit our state and our communities most. Democrats have won because we’ve demonstrated positive, results-oriented leadership. This year, in Creigh Deeds, we have a candidate who can easily take up the mantle in his trademark gutsy, no-frills -- and quintessentially Virginian -- way.

One thing is clear: Virginians have appreciated this approach.

That’s especially true in these tough economic times. In the coming months, the two candidates must show an ability to make the difficult decisions that will get our economy back on track -- even when the issues and the choices are less than politically palatable.
This November, voters will decide whether to continue the tradition of governing that has made us, according to various publications, the best state for business, the best-managed state and the place where “a child is most likely to have a successful life.” The winner will inherit a state that is better positioned than it was a decade ago — and face the challenge of helping Virginia emerge from this economic crisis stronger than ever before.

Republican from Salem; majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates

If you expect to be elected governor of Virginia this year, you’re going to have to pay close attention to the details. That’s because this year voters are paying closer attention to the fine print of policy proposals.

The public’s reaction to the federal bailouts of the banking industry, government ownership of auto companies, the proposed government-run competitor to health insurance companies and the unprecedented increase in federal spending and the deficit indicates that voters will be closely examining the consequences — both intentional and unintentional — of candidates’ promises. Our two would-be governors will have to be a good deal more comprehensive with the details of their ideas than candidates have been in past years.

Standard partisan talking points won’t prevail this year. The stakes are too high and — in the midst of an economic downturn — the challenges too substantial to expect Virginians to willingly pick sides in a sound-bite war between the two parties. They expect more. With both nominees possessing extensive records accumulated over nearly two decades of public service, voters understandably are anticipating that the respective solutions offered by the candidates will be deeper and more detailed.

Like most Americans, Virginians aren’t expecting government to be the solution to all their daily challenges. They are instead looking for government to handle its responsibilities so that they can better manage their own. The nominee for governor who better articulates this balance — a state government that delivers results while not increasing the burden on its citizens — will be the victorious candidate.

Founding director, the Center for Public Policy and the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University; runs the Virginia Tomorrow politics blog

What will voters be looking for?

It’ll be very personal. More so than usual.

The next governor will be the kind of person you turn to when you’re in a jam.

Decent and generous enough to care. Smart enough to know the options.

Practical enough to be helpful.

Flash and glitz are out. Extravagant promises won’t be believed. Voters won’t be in the mood for taking a flyer — just think of all those gambles in Washington that we’re paying for now.

Virginians, I believe, are in a back-to-the-basics kind of mood. They’ll want a governor who will keep the schools running well, operate government efficiently and affordably, and work like heck to help the Virginia economy recover.

Both Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell have the potential to be the kind of candidate Virginians want. They have experience with the key issues, and they’re both well liked and respected by the people who know them best.

Deeds exudes passion and empathy. He’s not the smoothest candidate. When he speaks, sometimes his thoughts get ahead of his words. But a little bit of awkwardness isn’t all bad today, especially if it’s combined with authenticity. Who can’t admire someone who’s put 300,000 miles on his Ford Explorer driving around the state to hear what Virginians are thinking?

McDonnell runs a little cooler than Deeds, but in an attractive kind of way. He’s a very good listener (a skill many politicians never develop). He has deeply held beliefs and values but remains a practical guy who wants to solve problems. The public will be impressed with his competence.

Each of them will face the challenge of proving their independence, albeit for very different reasons.

Deeds will be tempted to run as the first cousin of Warner-Kaine. He has to be careful than he doesn’t make the election more about them than him.

Virginia have liked Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, but they’re still anxious about where we’re heading and they will want to reach a judgment about Deeds that is at least partially independent of his political lineage.

By contrast, McDonnell has to overcome the tarnished reputation of the GOP brand. The Democrats will be relentless in connecting McDonnell to unpopular Republicans. To get a fair hearing from voters, McDonnell will have to convince them that he’s his own person and not just a surrogate for viewpoints that they’ve already rejected.

We’re already seeing pundits looking at Virginia as the first referendum on Barack Obama and as an early signal about the 2010 congressional elections.

I actually think that the significance of the race is a bit simpler: It will tell us what kind of leader people want at a time when their anxiety about the overall economy and their own life prospects remains relatively high.

Principal of JKK Associates, campaign consultant to former governors George Allen and Jim Gilmore and former representative Tom Davis

What’s it going to take to be elected governor? “More votes than the other guy” is the short answer. The longer answer is more complex but very straightforward: The candidate who can capture the majority of the votes of the “Suburban Coalition” will win the election.

What is the Suburban Coalition? It comprises the voters living in the areas around large cities stretching from Loudoun, Prince William and western Fairfax counties in Northern Virginia through Stafford, Spotsylvania, Hanover, Henrico, Powhatan, Goochland and Chesterfield in the Richmond area, through James City County, Isle of Wight and York counties, and the cities of Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Newport News and Poquoson in Hampton Roads.

Every election for governor since 1973 has been won by the candidate who has appealed best to these voters. Virginia’s suburban voters care most about quality-of-life issues such as education, transportation and, this year, jobs. In fact, one could make the argument that the last four gubernatorial campaigns (two Republicans and two Democrats) were won by the candidates best articulating a strong education message.
So, the big question is: Who will capture the imagination of suburbia? McDonnell begins the race with significant advantages. Growing up in Northern Virginia and representing Virginia Beach in the legislature, he is a product of suburbia. Deeds, on the other hand, is a product of the good-old-boy establishment in rural Virginia.

But issues and style will tell the tale. The debate on jobs, education and transportation will dominate the campaign. And the candidates whose proposals best appeal in suburbia will win.

Longtime Virginia and national Democratic strategist; partner at Hilltop Public Solutions in Washington

Let’s be clear about one thing. This isn’t a national race, and it’s not a referendum on President Obama. This race is going to come down to two very simple questions: Which candidate can do the most to create jobs, and who will best carry on the legacies of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine?

Despite concern over the national economy, Virginians are happy with the direction of the state. They don’t want to change course — they want a governor who will follow in the Warner/Kaine mold of working across party lines to get results. And this year, they want those results to be focused on getting the economy back on track.

Democratic nominee Deeds can win if he stays focused on those issues. So far, so good. He’s the only candidate in this race with a record of working in partnership with Warner and Kaine, and he’s talking about how to create new, renewable-energy jobs.
Republican nominee McDonnell, on the other hand, can’t win this race unless he undergoes a major makeover. He’s trying his hardest to do that, ignoring his long record as a social ideologue, and suddenly trying to make himself out to be a bipartisan kind of guy. McDonnell’s problem is that he’s got a long record of working against Kaine and Warner, standing with former Republican governor Jim Gilmore and focusing on social issues.

In the end, I think Deeds wins because, in a choice between staying on the forward-moving path we’ve been on, or going back to the days of fiscal mismanagement and social battles, Virginians want to keep moving forward.

Democrat from Henry County; House of Delegates minority leader

Creigh Deeds will win in November if he follows a similar path to the one he took in the recent Democratic primary. Simply put, by being himself. Creigh’s appeal is his “everyman” quality. He’s the guy you serve with on the Parent-Teacher Association, or go to church with, or is just the good neighbor who will lend you his lawn mower when yours is broken. What won the primary for him also gave him his strong margin of victory — his sincerity. What you see is what you get.

Deeds needs to make certain that voters know he was willing to make tough choices to fund transportation and education. Voters need to be aware that in 2004 he supported Gov. Warner’s plan to shore up the state’s budget. He has to communicate his support for the 55,000 additional places for college students over the next decade and that he will be the one to offer renewable energy solutions.

Additionally he will have to contrast himself with his opponent, Bob McDonnell, and the House Republican leadership that supports McDonnell. With McDonnell’s blessing, Republicans have transformed the House of Delegates into the House of No. They have consistently refused to pass a comprehensive transportation plan. On a myriad other issues they have told voters what they will not do, but have failed to provide real, comprehensive solutions for the challenges facing the Commonwealth.

Deeds is committed to continuing the Warner-Kaine tradition of results-oriented government while McDonnell would take us backwards. Throughout his career in public service, Deeds has shown his ability to build consensus and deliver results. If he gets that message out, and all indications are that he will, Deeds will be the next governor of the Commonwealth.

Associate professor of government and politics, George Mason University

Virginia, the Old Dominion, is rapidly changing in values and outlook. The new residents never knew the ol’ Virginny that was for so long dominated by a few men who valued an agrarian lifestyle. Twenty-first-century Virginia is now home to military retirees, new citizens from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and young voters who are employed in the information technology sector.

The successful gubernatorial candidate must understand the needs of traditional farmers and small business owners. Simultaneously, the candidate must appeal to voters who are urban or suburban commuters. The next governor must value the political traditions of fiscal conservatism, while promoting prudent spending on education, mental health and transportation.

Growing suburban clout cannot be ignored, as voters in Prince William and Loudoun counties have shown in electing President Obama and Gov. Kaine. In short, the future belongs to the candidate who has broad appeal with voters across Virginia yet can strike a balance between traditional Virginia values and modern, creative solutions to the increasing problems of governance.

Republican, representing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House

Everyday kitchen-table issues are going to be the deciding factor in November. People are concerned about the economy. They are worried about losing their jobs. They are worried about their health care. If they have children, they are worried about schools and how they are going to put their kids through college. They want safe schools and neighborhoods.

And here in Northern Virginia, voters always will be concerned about traffic, which has become a quality-of-life issue.

People are going to vote for the candidate who they believe will best tackle these day-to-day issues head on. They want a governor who knows and understands what they deal with on a daily basis. The winning candidate will be the person who has developed the best strategy to keep jobs coming to Virginia and, for Northern Virginians, has a plan to address our region’s transportation needs. Real solutions to real problems will be the real issue this fall.

By Vince Rinehart  | June 25, 2009; 8:35 PM ET
Categories:  Va. Politics, economy, environment  
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The Post's coverage of Virginia politics is just getting better and better these days, despite all the budget tightening and buyouts. This array of informed opinions was an enterprising and useful exercise and I don't know where else I would find it. Thank you.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | June 29, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

In the wake of the new facts and rumors of the Washington Post vs. the lobbyists, my comment is, that we had to realize that you can't trust women at the helm just as much or not anymore then men. The last love for our newspapers has left the station.....Dorothea Enlow, Killeen, Texas

Posted by: dora_rice | July 3, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

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