Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Creigh Deeds: The worst campaign of 2009

After awarding Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) with the "Fixie" for best campaign of 2009 yesterday, we turn to the other side of that equation: the worst-run race of the year.

And the "Fixie" goes to.....:

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds

Derision for Deeds ran rampant in the Fix poll with more than six in ten voters (62 percent of the more than 2,100 votes cast) choosing his as the worst campaign of the year -- far outdistancing people like Dede Scozzafava in New York's 23rd district and Jon Corzine in the New Jersey governor's race. (For what it's worth, we thought Corzine actually ran one of the better campaigns of the year given the sour attitude toward him among Garden State voters.)

And, while the level of disdain for Deeds is a bit outsized -- you would think he single-handedly destroyed the Democratic party -- much of the blame directed at Deeds is deserved.

The fundamental problem of the Deeds' general election strategy was that he tried to replicate the model used successfully by Mark Warner in 2001 rather than the Barack Obama blueprint of 2008.

Deeds, who hails from rural Bath county in the western part of the state, focused heavily on a rural, outstate strategy designed to convince lower-income white voters that he was the better choice to speak for their interests in Richmond.

The problem with that approach was simple: too much had changed in the Commonwealth over the eight years between Warner's victory and Deeds' run to make a rural strategy work.

Between Warner '01 and Deeds '09, Democrats had gone on a statewide winning streak fueled by their gains in the population-rich Washington D.C. suburbs. Sen. Jim Webb's stunning victory over George Allen in 2006 was built on the Democrat's dominance in the close-in communities of northern Virginia. Ditto Obama's 2008 win, which combined huge strength in northern Virginia with large turnout in the African American communities in the Tidewater region.

Despite a soaring primary victory built at least on part in his surprising strength in northern Virginia (Deeds was running against two candidates with roots in the region) , Deeds spent much of his time in the general election courting rural, conservative-minded voters living far from places like Arlington and Falls Church.

That approach led Deeds into an uneasy embrace of Obama and his policies -- keeping the President at arm's length for much of the campaign for fear of alienating those outstate voters he believed he needed to win.

What that strategy got Deeds was the worst of both worlds. The outstate voters he was targeting associated him, negatively, with Obama and his policies anyway while the base of the Democratic party in the state -- affluent whites in northern Virginia and African Americans -- were offended at his unwillingness to fully embrace a president who less than a year before had become the first Democratic candidate to carry the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson.

By the time Deeds realized the error of his strategy and tried to run with Obama, it was too late. The black community -- led by ubiquitous former Gov. Doug Wilder -- was openly skeptical of Deeds while northern Virginia white voters were something less than enthused about turning out for a candidate who they didn't believe shared their values.

Other strategic mistakes plagued Deeds -- most notably the overplaying of the McDonnell thesis issue.

The emergence of the thesis handed Deeds a lifeline in a campaign that seemed headed for an ignominious end. And, at the start of the controversy, Deeds played it exactly right -- insisting that it was evidence that McDonnell was far more conservative than his rhetoric let on.

But, as the controversy lingered, Deeds simply continued to bash McDonnell without using the opportunity afforded by the thesis to talk to voters, who were paying very close attention at that point, about why he would be the better choice for governor.

We have long maintained that no matter how negative a campaign is, voters ultimately want something positive to vote for. Deeds missed the chance to give them that during the thesis blowup and, once it had passed, the race returned to where it had been before the controversy -- with McDonnell comfortably ahead.

Strategy can only be blamed for so much when it comes to Deeds' loss, however. Bad campaigns tend to have a bad candidate at their center and that was the case in this race. Deeds won the primary largely on the strength of his "nice guy" demeanor but even in the afterglow of that stunning victory no one would mistake him for a charismatic candidate.

Where McDonnell seemed "gubernatorial" both on the campaign trail and on television, Deeds was something short of that -- a good man who seemed to be trying to bat above his political average.

Deeds' limited political skills also led to the campaign's decision to keep him from speaking in any of his television ads. While that approach worked in the primary, we can't help but think that if Deeds had been able to speak directly to voters in the midst of Republicans pummeling over his "I think I made myself clear, young lady" flap it might have helped mitigate some of the political damage he incurred.

The Deeds effort went wrong in any number of ways -- all under a national microscope that helped to exacerbate each opportunity missed or mistake made. It stands out clearly as the worst campaign of the year.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 17, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Howard Dean, health care reform spoiler?
Next: The political dangers of passing a health care bill


Maybe Chris' child sent the Fixie suggestion in. That way, he gets to keep the shirts in the family.

My word, I know I am never getting a Fix t-shirt! I've razzed Chris too many times. He may seem nice, but I bet he's vindictive.

Posted by: MikeK3 | December 18, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

The Fixie! Sounds like Pixie. Really, Chris, there were so many better suggestions. "Fixie" should win an award for the lamest award name.


co-sign. A third grader could come up with a better name than that

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | December 17, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

The Fixie! Sounds like Pixie. Really, Chris, there were so many better suggestions. "Fixie" should win an award for the lamest award name.

Posted by: MikeK3 | December 17, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse


As I've mentioned to you before, Deeds was a terrible candidate. He simply wasn't ready for prime time. His campaign didn't know how to control him to finesse the weaknesses, plus there's no denying that Bob McDonnell ran a superb--although not flawless--campaign.

I don't think that the two halves of the VA race are a perfect mirror. As I told you, I think Tedisco in the NY-20 race was very bad. He--or any decent R. candidate--should have won that race, and not by a squeaker, either.

Corzine ran a perfectly competent (if negative) campaign. The problem was with the messenger, not the (rather nasty) message. Chris Christie was a poor candidate who should have been beaten, but b/c Corzine had made himself so disliked, was victorious when he didn't deserve to be.

Poor Dede Scozzafava in NY-23 was more of a victim that a bad candidate, getting caught between the Club For (Regressive) Growth and a decent D. candidate.

Hoffman, the Conservative, was pathetically ill-prepared, did not live in the district, and had a very poor grasp of local problems. Ergo, for the first time in over 100 years, a D. won the seat, thanks to the ham-handed intervention of 'conservative' know-nothings like Dick Armey and Sarah Palin.

Posted by: sverigegrabb | December 17, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Deeds lost because he's a Democrat in a fairly moderate state in a year in which a large majority of voters,56.7% according to RCP, fear the country is heading in the wrong direction. In the hard, cold light of morning voters realize they were seduced by Obams'a pretty talk. The no-nothings who turned out in droves to vote for the first time in 2008 have lost interest. It wasn't Deeds but rather his party's "leadership".

Posted by: hit4cycle | December 17, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

"You brokey, you fixey!"



Does Howard Dean's 11th hour thumbs-down on the Senate health care reform bill presage a possible presidential primary challenge to Barack Obama?

WaPo political pundit Chris Cillizza calls such a gambit "extremely unlikely." But in the eyes of those who have disappointed by Mr. Obama's failure to prevent he bill's watering down by the likes of the petulant and toadying Joe Lieberman, it becomes more likely with each passing day.

President Obama recently has exhibited a peculiar and troubling regression from past displays of moral resolve and courage. Something seems not right with President Obama. He appears to be detached, aloof, dispassionate. He laughs at inappropriate moments, as evidenced in his two "60 Minutes" interviews with Steve Kroft of CBS News. Kroft invited POTUS to emote by asking about the personal agony involved in his decision to send 30,000 more troops into harm's way in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama's response might be characterized as a "Dukakis Moment," more cerebral than empathetic.

It's almost as if President Obama has fallen under the influence of a physical force that has altered his persona, blunted his emotions -- a passionate advocate of hope and change transformed, downsized, into just another calculating and cautious political automaton.

As far-fetched as it may sound, it got me to thinking about this question:


To find out why I raise this question, please read this article and the accompanying "comments" section: OR

Posted by: scrivener50 | December 17, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

But the fact that we cant say with any confidence is just more proof that neither side is selling out. We just have legitimate conflicting viewpoints.


Nonsense. Call it what it is.

There is nothing "legitimate" about wanting to bundle up vulnerable Americans into bales and feeding them to Moloch.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | December 17, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Deeds and his cr@ppy campaign got an able assist from the WaPo who acted as his enabler.

Posted by: 0460 | December 17, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I think we need to be careful calling eachother sell-outs in regards to the health-care bill over the last week. Many of us who were staunch advocates of the bill, have totally bailed on it in the last few days. On the other hand, many still feel that this is a good bill. And both sides are justified. I get why Dr. Dean wants to kill the bill, but I also get why Chris thinks he shouldnt. This idea has been abused by those who didn't like it from the beginning. And those who liked the idea, and who had the power, were more interested in the fantasy of bipartisanship, than in protecting this worthy cause. What we have left is a perverse mutation of the original. Could it still be good? Maybe. But the fact that we cant say with any confidence is just more proof that neither side is selling out. We just have legitimate conflicting viewpoints.

Posted by: elijah24 | December 17, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

This is about your creds.


Uh, you're talking to the guy who sees hope for Republicans all over the country and who thinks Tim "TPaw" Pawlenty has a shot.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | December 17, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Wow I may just start commenting again if we all stay on point and dont do the silly bickering and name calling.

But you cant disagree with CC on this, Deeds ran an awful campaign in the general. Only thing missing is some summary of how he did so well in the primary and then misread the general. But I quibble....

Posted by: WOW9 | December 17, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I watched you on MSNBC with AM. Shame on you for undermining Dr. Dean. Leading some to think he had a motive for telling the truth about the health care bill. Who are the middle class citizens in this country going to pay for this. Yes, I am a retired Union employee that has a very good (Caddi) health care plan. Having my husband and I pay more taxes (middle class) to pay for this bill is un-American. The House bill taxes folks who have incomes well over $250,000.00. Come on ... Dr Dean, selling out .... Please. Get real and I'm not the only person that will notice the obvious undermining of Dr. Dean. This is about your creds.
Helen and Bob McAvoy

Posted by: helen13 | December 17, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Folks...just wanted to say thanks for such an on-topic comment thread. Much appreciated.


Posted by: Chris_Cillizza | December 17, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

this thread is too much on topic and making too much sense.

enter the ped!

Posted by: ZOUK | December 17, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I dont really think its fair to have Scozzafava on this list. She didn't run a bad campaign. Nobody could have forseen her party selling her out for a candidate from the Tea Party Party, who had no chance in a blue state. I know its a red district, but the GOP candidates that win there arent like the GOP candidates who win in Alabama. Dede ran the best campaign she could run under the circumstances.

Posted by: elijah24 | December 17, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Do you know Virginians can help lower the deficit?

Secede. You take more money out of the Federal Budget than you put in and that is just to cover yourselves. You don't contribute to defense spending, the space program, border control or anything else. In fact if you look at the worst 10 offenders of taking more money than you put in, they are all red states. I think you should all secede.

Posted by: James10 | December 17, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Deeds having run the worst campaign. I do think Bloomberg comes in second. Although it was a primary, I would rank Michael Capuano of MA as 3rd. Here is a guy who over a decade in Congress and could not tell voters why he shoudl be a senator. I think Scozzafava was done in by circunstances really beyond her control, and Corzine's biggest mistake was running in the first place. Any other Dem would have won that election by 15 pts.

Posted by: jjj141 | December 17, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

The primary was a mess, too. Why three Democrats? Terry McAuliffe? Based on his platform, Moran's little brother should have won handily, but his demeanor said "oh whatever."

Posted by: chunche | December 17, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"McDonnell praised President Obama every time he had the least excuse to do so. "

Exactly. As did Christie. Both ran like they might as well have been Democrats -- a direct assault on the CW that more 'conservative' candidates will win elections, except in the South, primarily.

Posted by: drindl | December 17, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

You nailed it. Deeds ran a terrible campaign. Having said that, I believe McDonnell's victory will lead to a Democratic victory in 2013 if they run a decent campaign. McDonnell's ideology is out of alignment with the promises he made during the campaign. He is not going to deliver on his promises on transportation and education. The voters will say in 2013 they are not better off than they were in 2009.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | December 17, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

At one point they even tried to make the election a referendum on abortion while the Republican owned the jobs issue!

Posted by: blasmaic | December 17, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I liked Creigh Deeds and "met" him (in the sense of a grip and grin) twice. I am proud that I donated several times and canvassed many hours for him. But honestly, this is a spot-on description of a truly not very good campaign.

Let me add from the canvassers' perspective something about the "Obama voters," who turned out for the first time in 2008 and pretty much stayed home this time. Many face practical obstacles that normally keep them from voting, like jobs where it's not okay to come in late because you were voting. What, then, motivated them to find a way to vote in 2008? Let's see:

"Hope" -- meaning a positive, no more politics as usual, uplifting vision. Does anyone feel the Deeds campaign came across that way, as opposed to deeply negative (anti-thesis)?

"Change" -- meaning, a new candidate who will change most of what the incumbent (GW Bush) has done and who will set a new course. Deeds, on the other hand, ran as "more of the same", stating he would be just like Governor Warner and Governor Kaine, the last two governors. The opposite of change. So, no change, as well as no hope.

Unity (there's no red states, there's no blue states, there's just one United States...). Deeds focused his campaign on social wedge issues like abortion, homosexuality, women working outside the home, and the like, a complete role reversal for a Democratic candidate. McDonnell praised President Obama every time he had the least excuse to do so. Deeds garnered some Republican endorsements, but otherwise found few ways to reach across the aisle.

Identifying with the candidate. Not much Deeds could do about this, but think how many people identified personally with Obama. He was comfortable with youth and online culture and tailored his campaign to making real-life, practical use of the Internet. He, like McDonnell, relentlessly came across as the ultimate PTA dad, getting the family vote. He reached out as a matter of course to the black community. He embodied the dreams of college-educated and graduate-degree professional households. And he also made it in America with a funny-sounding, foreign name, a fact that totally resonated with immigrant citizens regardless of their country of origin (especially those with dreams for their kids, which is about, oh, 100 percent of them).

So, in terms of not following the 2008 Obama gameplan, it is quite true that Deeds failed to go for the more vote-rich parts of the state and got the geography wrong. But he also missed out on hope, change, unity, and making a personal connection with voters. When matched with a tactically superior (though extremely right-wing) opponent, in an off-year with lower turnout, the outcome was no surprise. What a shame.

And that's not even getting into the issue of the Virginia "counter cycle" of voting against the incumbent president's party. Talk about an uphill climb.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | December 17, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Neither one was a prize. It was a lose, lose for Virginia either way. Which just adds one more reason not to live in Virginia.

Posted by: James10 | December 17, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm very thankful that Deeds lost. But there's probably more to it than that considering the Republicans did a full sweep on the high three offices. It's blow back toward the national political scene. Basically, state level dems paid the price for the sins of the national level. Deeds appears to have run a bad campaign, but it's not entirely his fault.

Posted by: traderdad37 | December 17, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Spot-on analysis. I did my part, going around S. Arlington in the rain, knocking on doors of Democrats who voted for Obama. "Who?" "What election?"


Posted by: chunche | December 17, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Would you vote for a man that resemble AL Bundy with a name like Creig enough said.

Posted by: blkisin | December 17, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

here's the REAL LOSING campaign - big government:

In January 2008, the American economy employed 138.1 million people and our nation’s unemployment rate was 4.9%. That’s when a “bipartisan stimulus” totaling $170 billion was passed, one comprised largely of increased mortgage guarantees for government-backed (now government-run) mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

By January of this year, 3.5 million Americans had lost their jobs and the unemployment rate stood at 7.6%.

That’s when the forces of “change” in Washington decided to put the interventionist policies of the Bush era on steroids, passing the massive bureaucratic bailout and handing out government cash and loan guarantees to favored special interests like candy.

Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, the federal government has spent, lent or pledged nearly $13 trillion – which equates to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

The result of all that taxpayer-funded largesse? Since January of this year, another 3.5 million Americans have lost their jobs, and the unemployment rate has soared to 10%.

Meanwhile, Obama is proposing fresh tax increases on high income-earners (i.e. job creators) to pay for his socialized medicine proposal, and his campaign promise to provide middle class tax relief has evaporated. In fact, with the national debt fast approaching $13 trillion (twice what it was six years ago) and a record budget deficit of $1.5 trillion on tap for the coming fiscal year, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Obama will have to resort to a middle class tax hike in order to cover government’s escalating tab.

Posted by: ZOUK | December 17, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"fool me once..."

Shame on... Shame on... ... Won't get fooled again.

That guy provided endless material.


Posted by: bsimon1 | December 17, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I think you nailed in CC. Nice analysis.

Posted by: AndyR3 | December 17, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

The worst campaign was definitely Deeds, but don't let the consultants get off scottfree - they are to blame as well: Joe Abbey, Monica Dixon, David Dixon, Kevin Mack, Mo Elleithee, and whoever the pollster was - they were awful, took big paydays and screwed the Virginia Democratic Party for years to come.

Posted by: notjoeabbey | December 17, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

"I still contend that Bloomberg deserves an honorable mention."

For winning or for nearly losing?

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 17, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Let's assign this failure to its real owner >> the actual performance of the Obama administration, after all the campaign promises that got him elected. Everyone saw that Liberals simply lie like crazy to get elected then do nothing of substance or merit.

fool me once.......

Posted by: ZOUK | December 17, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to disagree with the vote or the analysis. I still contend that Bloomberg deserves an honorable mention.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 17, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with you on this one. A tone-deaf performance.

Posted by: drindl | December 17, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

You got this right.
Hoffman's effort was worse in a few ways, but he is to absurd to dignify with a Fixie.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 17, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company