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Virginia Notebook: Republicans Assess Opposition

Tim Craig

It's no secret that Virginia Republicans are hungry to win this year's governor's race, and they say they think Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell will be a formidable GOP nominee.

Given McDonnell's expected strengths, some Virginia Democrats may decide to support the Democratic candidate who they think has the best chance to defeat him. But Democratic activists are divided about whether Terry McAuliffe, Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) or former delegate Brian Moran stands the best chance against McDonnell.

So, to help Democrats figure out what the opposition is thinking, Virginia Notebook spent a day asking randomly selected Virginia GOP leaders which Democratic candidate they fear most as an opponent.

Here are some of their answers. Yes, these are Republicans, so Democrats will have to decide whether the answers reflect a bit of reverse psychology.

Former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, the GOP nominee for governor in 2005, said he worries most about McAuliffe.

"Having run several statewide races, you always fear someone with a lot of money because they can make themselves into whatever they want, and McAuliffe has a lot of money," Kilgore said. "He has lots of negatives, but money makes a difference and helps overcome negatives."

J. Kenneth Klinge, a longtime strategist from Fairfax County, said he's undecided about which Democrat he wants to avoid having to face in the fall.

"In a certain set of circumstances, I think Moran could be tougher and in another set I think McAuliffe could be," Klinge said. "If you look at the [federal] stimulus package, it's full of good ol' liberal garbage, and if that starts working or is perceived to be working, I think it helps Moran. If things are not appearing to be working that well, then I think McAuliffe takes advantage of that because he's the new face."

Klinge also said he feels sorry for Deeds.

"He's just sort of overwhelmed by these other personalities, even though he is a good citizen," Klinge said. "In many ways, he could give us hell because he's straight down the middle."

David Avella, executive director of GOPAC, which recruits Republican candidates, said he thinks McAuliffe would be McDonnell's toughest opponent.

"The challenge with McAuliffe is, one, he will have the money to define to voters the exact image he wants to portray and, two, he's never been involved in Virginia for people to be able to judge whether he's been a success in moving Virginia forward," Avella said.

Avella also said he thinks McAuliffe could emulate "the Barack Obama model" by having "money to do everything, which allows for innovation and the trying of new things."

Mike Wade, chairman of the 3rd District Republican Committee in Hampton, said he's still not sure who would be McDonnell's strongest opponent.

"I don't think there is one that we can't beat," Wade said. "Money-wise I think McAuliffe is going to be a strong contender. I think there is definitely a difference on issues between Brian and Bob."

He later added, "Other than his money, I would rather run against McAuliffe. He would be the most fun to beat."

Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (Prince William), chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said he thinks Deeds could pose the biggest threat to McDonnell, although he said that it's early.

"They are all formidable, but I personally would be most worried about Deeds, but most people don't share that view," Frederick said. "He's the most conservative of the bunch, and I think he would appeal to a broader base than Moran ..... who has represented a very liberal district for many years, and Terry McAuliffe, who is obviously not the most conservative guy on the block."

Gary Byler, chairman of the 2nd Congressional District Republican Committee in Virginia Beach, said he is undecided.

"McAuliffe is going to have a ton of money and that by itself is a lot of television politics," Byler said. "The money is formidable, but in vote-rich Northern Virginia Moran is going to bring his own strengths to the ticket."

"You can also make the case that Deeds will be hardest to run against because he is good on guns and has a base in rural Virginia," Byler added.

John H. Hager, former chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said he thinks McAuliffe would be the most formidable Democratic nominee.

"He would be terribly hard to beat if he employs an Obama-type ground game with all his money," said Hager, who added that he respects Deeds and Moran. "They are all strong candidates, but I think McDonnell is in the lead, and he's moving along well."

J. Tucker Watkins, a strategist in southern Virginia, said Deeds, McAuliffe and Moran "each bring something to the table" for a general election campaign. "Deeds has rural strength that neither of the others is going to have, Moran has higher name ID, and I think the base of their party knows him, and McAuliffe has star power," Watkins said.

Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Party, picked McAuliffe as the greatest threat to the GOP this year.

"Bob McDonnell has the better message and better ideas, but I think, certainly, the money that Terry McAuliffe could bring to the race is a concern," Bedell said. "The amounts we hear he could raise would be unprecedented in Virginia. You can't discount, when you have that much money, that it won't have an impact."

Bedell added, "Issue-wise, Bob McDonnell matches up very well, but money, if McAuliffe spends $50.million in Virginia, that's a problem."

Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (Prince William) said he's not sure.

"McAuliffe clearly has a lot of money, but that may not be enough for Virginians to say that they are ready to have a rich guy descend on the commonwealth and say, 'Hey, I'm here,'." Lingamfelter said. "Moran has a lot of experience in the House. He has a lot of practical understanding of how the House works. But Creigh Deeds also has a lot of experience because he's been in both the House and the Senate."

James Parmelee, a conservative activist from Fairfax County, said he thinks all three Democrats "are about the same" and he "could make an argument for or against each of them."

Del. Terry G. Kilgore (Scott) said he "wouldn't want to run against McAuliffe because of all of the money."

"He would be able to run a national campaign in Virginia," Kilgore said.

Jeff Ryer, a strategist for House Republicans, said he wants to wait until the June 9 primary before answering.

"The easy answer is, McAuliffe will be toughest for us to beat, but it cuts both ways," Ryer said. "It depends on how much damage Brian and Creigh do to [McAuliffe] in the primary."

Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Staunton), who co-chaired Arizona Sen. John McCain's (R) Virginia campaign last year, said "McAuliffe's got money and Deeds has got the rural areas and Moran's strong in Northern Virginia and a well-known likeable candidate," Saxman said.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William) said Republicans should be "leery" of having to face McAuliffe.

"He's going to try to reach down and affect the delegate races, which is where you get volunteers," Marshall said. "You don't normally get a governor's [campaign] with a precinct operation. You get that from local people. I think McAuliffe is more dangerous because he could do what Obama did: Hire a bunch of these workers to go door-to-door."

Del. William R. Janis(Goochland) said he doesn't care who is nominated.

"I've got to tell you, I haven't given it any thought," Janis said. "I would hate to either jinx one or help one inadvertently. They are all good guys. They just have bad ideas."

By Tim Craig  |  February 18, 2009; 1:40 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Tim Craig  
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Bob Marshall said: "he could do what Obama did: Hire a bunch of these workers to go door-to-door."" Did Marshall sleep through all of 2008? That was an army of unpaid volunteers, not merchs.

Posted by: ToddMSmyth | February 19, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

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