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Virginia Notebook: Tour Shows Deeds is a Little Bit Country

Rosalind Helderman

One thing about "Deeds Country," as the swath of rural Virginia extending through the Shenandoah Valley and down into southwest where state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds has been touring this week has been dubbed by his campaign: It apparently isn't Obama Country.

Outside stops in the more urban settings of Charlottesville, Danville and Blacksburg, many of the 20 visits Deeds is making on a nine-day campaign swing that begun Sunday are in places where President Barack Obama was beaten handily by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Appomattox, Hillsville, Tazewell, Floyd. All are areas where Obama did not break 35 percent of the vote.

Obama's victory in Virginia came because he won big in the state's suburban areas, particularly in Northern Virginia, where thousands of new and energized voters joined the rolls in the months leading up to November's election and then cast ballots for the Democrat.

That mirrored other recent successful Democratic strategies, including those of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Sen. James Webb, who both used sophisticated mathematical modeling to devise winning strategies rooted in the suburbs.

So a big summer push through the state's rural west -- instead of the developments, community pools and shopping malls of Virginia's densely populated regions -- has got some progressives nervous about their candidate's strategy.

When Deeds unveiled a campaign video to accompany the tour featuring him driving around his rural Bath County home in a pickup, blogger Ben Tribbett responded on Twitter, "Can someone please tell @CreighDeeds he is running for Governor of an urban/suburban state -- not Sheriff of Mayberry."

Fellow blogger Lowell Feld followed with an analysis of voting patterns in recent election cycles, concluding that Deeds "needs to do something to fire up the people who live in the 'urban crescent.'."

The message from the Deeds campaign -- and professional Democratic strategists not affiliated with the effort -- has been that it is far too early to draw conclusions. The campaign spent much of the final weeks before the June 9 primary in Northern Virginia and has three months before November to do the same.

Staff members say it makes sense to spend some of an otherwise quiet August playing up Deeds's rural roots, picking up free media along the way and forcing Republican Robert F. McDonnell to spend resources in parts of the state he might have considered safe.

"There are some bloggers who think that because I'm from rural Virginia, I can take for granted some block of Virginians," Deeds said during a call with the media Monday, noting he is spending just nine days on the push. "Does that mean that Northern Virginia is any less important? Absolutely not. That's where the election will be won or lost."

The Deeds Country label comes from an old map on the inside cover of a book about the history of Bath County. A section of the eastern part of the county near where Deeds lives is labeled with the moniker. The label also dates to the 2001 campaign, when Mark Warner took the governor's mansion by being the first Democrat in ages to win in rural Virginia. His slogan in those areas: "This is Warner Country."

Deeds campaign manager Joe Abbey said that Warner remains popular in those areas and that the Deeds tour gives the campaign a chance to talk about economic policies Warner advocated and McDonnell opposed. Although campaign workers are counting on Northern Virginia to make up 33 to 35.percent of the electorate, they think the rural swath could be as much as 25.percent.

"He won the primary because people believed he was a candidate who could campaign and compete in all corners of Virginia," Abbey said. "None of that has changed. So he's campaigning in all parts of the Virginia."

Pete Brodnitz, a pollster who helped Kaine devise his winning suburban strategy in 2005, endorsed the tour as one piece of an effort that will also reach out to suburban voters.

The rural swing can be used to signal to voters that Deeds has thought deeply about the economic challenges facing more depressed areas of the state -- and that might be appealing everywhere, Brodnitz said. Plus, it helps Deeds shape his story and play up what sets his candidacy apart.

"He can say, 'This is what makes me different; these are my roots,'" Brodnitz said. "It's useful for voters to always know what makes you unique."

Democratic strategist Steve Jarding, who helped build Warner's popularity in those same rural areas in 2001, said he, too, thinks an August trip through rural Virginia is a good idea for Deeds.

"Guys like Warner proved that as a Democrat, you can get votes in any part of Virginia, but you've got to go work it," Jarding said. "They probably figure, let's do that early, and by the end, we'll probably camp out in the higher population areas."

Indeed, as summer turns to fall, Abbey promised his candidate will be visible everywhere.

"We'll spend a lot of time in Tidewater. We'll spend lot of time in Richmond," Abbey said. "We'll spend a heck of lot of time in Northern Virginia."

What do you think about this strategy? Share your views in our comments section.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  August 5, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Rosalind Helderman , Virginia Notebook  
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Your Ben Tribbet link is broken, but you can leave it that way as far as I am concerned.

Try a little variety in quoting blogs in Virginia. They are not monolithic.

Posted by: MarkBrooks | August 5, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Absent the last two public polls, I would give more weight to the political professionals' opinions than the bloggers' opinions, and I say that as a fan of liberal blogs.

But we've got 2 polls in a short time that show DRAMATIC movement toward McDonnell, both giving him blowout margins, and both for the same reason: liberals are saying they're NOT PLANNING ON VOTING. The turnout models in both the Survey USA and Public Policy Polling polls both show stunningly depressed Democratic and liberal turnout, despite a largely normal racial breakdown for an odd-year Virginia state election. I initially dismissed the Survey USA poll as a bad sample, but when PPP came out tracking it nearly perfectly in the turnout model and trend, it became clear a very depressed Democratic base is very real. These are good pollsters with strong track records of accuracy.

The good news, at least, is that base voters CAN be motivated to show up a lot more easily than swing voters can be persuaded. But the polling shows Deeds flailing with independents, too......although it may be simply that conservative independents are saying they'll vote, and liberal independents are saying they won't.

Ultimately Deeds is in trouble, and that's an empirical truth and not merely argument. And all these Democratic political professionals didn't answer this issue, nor does it seem were they even asked about recent polling.

Posted by: jayreddy99 | August 5, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

The progressive base is depressed because Deeds does not represent us. He has problems with environmental voters (Surry), LGBT (Marshall Newman), gun control advocates (NRA), and he's never been popular with African Americans.

His choice to start his campaign not with supporters of the President or Democratic strongholds, but with the people most strongly opposed to the President and his agenda is telling. He's spent a week dog-whistling to conservative whites and now tries to cover it with a NoVA appearance with the President.

He can't be one of them and one of us both.

And every time he repeats that he's just "a country lawyer from Bath" Deeds reminds us that he has no experience with our transportation or economic development issues.

A tone deaf campaign from a lackluster candidate, all due to the Post's ill-advised endorsement. Progressives would best spend their energy and dollars supporting House of Delegates candidates.

Posted by: fauxrunner | August 6, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

This is a compressed campaign. Everyone I know in Northern Virginia (except me, it seems) who was a super enthusiastic Obama activist, wanted Brian Moran. These people are a tiny minority and yet crucially important opinion leaders. As with Hillary supporters last year, I think they need time to think about Deeds and need to be approached thoughtfully for their support toward late August or early September. Time heals many wounds. This would not be solvable if McAuliffe had been nominated because the strife was so great, but I think in time they can support Deeds just as strongly as they originally supported Jim Webb, and for many of the same reaasons.

I voted for him in the first place so there's no fence-mending I need, but I sympathize with the disappointed Moran supporters who just experienced their first "defeat" in a long time. I hope he is signaling to them very strongly that he wants them to jump in with both feet for Deeds. I sure do.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | August 6, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I trust the Deeds campaign knows how to win in all parts of Virginia. After all, that's exactly what Creigh Deeds did in the Democratic Primary.

If progressives are upset with Sen. Deeds as their nominee, then why did the most liberal areas of Virginia vote for him over his opponents in such overwhelming numbers?

It's surprising and saddening to me that the political reporting team at the Post is willing to disregard these facts in their political analysis.

Posted by: fakevirginia | August 7, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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