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Moran Finds his Rhythm at JJ (But So Does McAuliffe)

Tim Craig

At the Jefferson Jackson Day dinner last night, former delegate Brian Moran tried to pivot the race for the Democratic nomination for governor back on his terms, delivering a solid address that positioned himself as the politically mature, safe candidate in the race.

In a speech that took a surprising number of swipes as his rival for the nomination, Terry McAuliffe, Moran argued the stakes are too high for Democrats to risk the party's future with the new kid on the block.

"This campaign will be about who can win in November," Moran said. "It took us a generation to build this party. ... This was no overnight success -- the real leaders of our party served and fought for people first. "

A few hours later, McAuliffe was trying to send a signal that he, not Moran, will be the one defining the terms of who prevails in the primary. At a sweaty nightclub in downtown Richmond, there was McAuliffe with both hands above his head dancing to Hip Hop music.

At the party, which didn't end until the cash bar closed at 2 a.m., McAuliffe was sending a signal he doesn't think he needs to win over a majority of the longtime party activists to be successful. Instead, McAuliffe thinks he can grow the Democratic gubernatorial primary electorate by, in some settings, being the new, "cool," kid on the block.

And the more voters who show up for the June 9 primary, McAuliffe probably correctly calculates, the better his chances considering his expected financial advantage.

But in crafting a message to the 100,000 to 200,000 voters who have shown up in recent Democratic primary contests, Moran may have delivered the speech of his career last night.

Moran, who spent 13 years in the House of Delegates, argued he has been the one fighting in the trenches with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and former governor and U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.).

"I have seen the faces and heard the stories of the teachers and their students, the nurses and patients," Moran said. "I have fought for the high tech worker and the union laborer, alike. That is why Virginia needs a governor who wakes up every morning to fight for them."

Moran devoted a considerable portion of his speech taking not-so-subtle shots at McAuliffe, a risky move at a party event.

In his story on the dinner, Associated Press Reporter Bob Lewis wrote that Moran "savaged" McAuliffe by depicting him "as an interloper trying to buy the Virginia governor's office."

"We must decide what our party stands for," Moran said during his remarks. "Will our party be built from the bottom up or from the top down? Will our party be about public service or will it be about personal gain."

Although he excelled overall in his delivery, Moran appeared uncomfortable at times as he prepared to hurl the next zinger at McAuliffe.

"We need a fighter, not a fundraiser," Moran said at one point, which brought a smattering of boos from McAuliffe supporters.

McAuliffe, Moran argued, has no right to try to link himself to party leaders like Kaine and Warner, both of whom toiled in lower ranks of the party before they ran for governor.

"They earned the trust and loyalty of Virginians through their works, not their words," Moran said, another swipe at McAuliffe. "And it is a trust that no one can buy. Mark and Tim, they didn't just show up when it was easy and the battles had already been won."

McAuliffe's address, which preceded Moran's, was overall not memorable.

It focused on his background as a businessman and his pledge to create more jobs as governor. But McAuliffe repeated his earlier pledge that he is "not going to say anything negative about" Moran or state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), who is also a candidate for the nomination.

In interview earlier in the day, McAuliffe stressed he planned to "have fun" on the campaign trail.

After his post dinner reception at the Richmond Convention Center, McAuliffe once again flexed his financial advantage by renting out the top floor of Xscape Ultra Premium Nightclub for an after party. (This investment comes on the heels of McAuliffe buying up 39 tables at the dinner at a cost of at least $2,500 each).

The first floor of the club, which largely caters to African-American twenty and thirty somethings on a Saturday night, was packed with at least 500 club goers who were dancing next to walls adorned with "McAuliffe" signs.

In recent weeks, McAuliffe has made it clear he plans to aggressively pursue the African American community, who could make up a third of the Democratic primary electorate. McAuliffe will also likely have the resources to try to mobilize younger voters to the polls who normally would not show up for a Democratic primary.

Up on the balcony at the club, McAuliffe was schmoozing and dancing with his supporters, many of whom appeared to be relative newcomers to the Virginia political scene.

About every ten minutes, the D.J. would briefly pause the music to shout out, "We've got Terry McAuliffe in the house," or "Terry McAuliffe is running for governor," or "Give a Shout for Terry McAuliffe."

McAuliffe's dancing left an impression on at least one twenty-something who was at the party even though he is not active in politics.

"What day is the election?" he asked someone as he walked out of the club.

In case you are wondering, the Democratic primary will be held four months from Monday.

By Tim Craig  |  February 8, 2009; 4:21 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Brian J. Moran , Terry McAuliffe , Tim Craig  
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I'm very impressed with your take on the JJ Dinner. I was there and you nailed it. I wish you could have been at the breakfast this morning hosted by Brian. With over 200 people there, Brian got 2 standing ovations and his shorter speech I thought was even better than the one last night. The passion and inspiration was palpable.

He said the connection between our economy, health care and the environment has never been more profound and we will have to work through these problems knowing how they are connected.

People I know who have been on the fence were clearly embracing Brian and I just had such a great time.

Posted by: ToddMSmyth | February 8, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to remind the writer that Senator Creigh Deeds was also at the JJ dinner last night and deserves some recognition. He has also been in the Virginia legislature for a lot time, but he didn't quit to raise money. He's the true fighter. I would like to see a post talking about Deeds' performance at the dinner.

Posted by: rgshaw | February 8, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Kudos rgshaw. You nailed it! Deeds HAS stayed in the legislature while running for governor unlike Moran who tucked tail and ran from it because he was "freaked out" (as Sen. Saslaw said) of McAuliffe's entrance into the race!

Posted by: UVANick | February 9, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I find it ironic that a few months ago all Moran wanted to talk about was how he was a better choice than Deeds because he could out fundraise him. All of a sudden "money isn't everything".

Posted by: ironyisking | February 9, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Its "you're", not "your". Do you not have an editor?

Posted by: acs5r | February 9, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I think Mr. Craig was following the rule, in this case, that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all and the exodus during Creigh's speech summed it up. People were asking me if Creigh was winding down his campaign and getting out and "what happened to him?" and "He needs a speech coach." Not much to brag about.

Posted by: ToddMSmyth | February 9, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The only thing that comes to my mind when I read this and think of Terry McAuliffe is TOOL BAG.

This guy deserves correct for not caring what anyone thinks about him or his motives for running for governor of a state he clearly has not ever cared about politically. We, Virginia, just provide him with a piece of real estate near the national political stage, D.C.

This guy is a complete dork who has the money to waste on a governor's run and obviously the spare time as well. God help the Commonwealth if this idiot is in Richmond as governor. Why can't this guy just forfeit and pump his $$$ into local charities around the state, I'd actually take him seriously and give him some respect.

Posted by: centerright | February 9, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

UVANick: "because he was "freaked out" (as Sen. Saslaw said)"

Or more accurately, as "Deeds supporter Sen. Saslaw" said. But I'm sure that had nothing to do with it, and his characterization was entirely objective, right?

Posted by: jimeh | February 9, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Of course Saslaw is a Deeds supporter... Either way, Moran's speech was very negative and has drawn fire from several Democrats - of all levels.

I give some credit to Saslaw's comment because Moran DID drop out of his seat so he can raise money during the legislative 2009 session. Sorry Jimeh - that's the truth.

Posted by: UVANick | February 9, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

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