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Democrats' Press Call Goes Awry with Mudcat's Candor

Sandhya Somashekhar

Oops. This afternoon, what was billed as a press call to slam former congressman Tom Davis (R) for allegedly anti-rural remarks turned into an all-too-candid strategy session, courtesy of David "Mudcat" Saunders.

The longtime Democratic operative apparently wasn't told by party officials or the campaign of gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds (D) that it was in fact a press call, rather than an internal chat about strategy. So for several minutes, Saunders spoke rather colorfully and indelicately about his indignation over Davis' recent comments and about how they could be leveraged to help Deeds.

He noted that the remarks might better be spun as anti-working-person, rather than anti-rural, because "From what I've seen up in Northern Virginia, they don't give a damn if people talk s*** about us." And in trying to explain that the comments might also be offensive to those with rural roots who live in Northern Virginia, he said there are "more rednecks on Route 1 in Alexandria than the sixth district of Virginia."

The call was supposed to center on a quote in a recent Washington Post story in which Davis (R) said Deeds "doesn't speak the language" necessary to woo the support of Northern Virginia business leaders.

"As if those of us downstate are, what, barefoot and stupid?" said House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D), who was also on the conference call. He called for Robert F. McDonnell (R), Deeds' opponent, to repudiate Davis' comment.

Reached by telephone, Davis said the quote had been misconstrued. "If you read the article, it was all about the business community," he said. "We were talking about the business community. It wasn't about northern or southern or rural or urban Virginia.... He doesn't speak the language of business."

Also on the call with Saunders were Democratic Party of Virginia spokeswoman Allison Jaslow and former Deeds campaign manager Susan Swecker. They let him talk on for several minutes before we finally piped up and asked a question, partly to point out that we were there.

A flustered Saunders replied that he didn't know the press was on the call. "I was told it was a strategy call," he said.

He later explained that he used the term redneck "affectionately, people from the culture." The reference to Route 1 in Alexandria referred to military personnel at Fort Belvoir who might have hailed from Iowa or some other rural community.

"I'm a redneck, and Ward Armstrong is too," he said. For the record, Saunders lives in the sixth Congressional district.

And in explaining his comment about Northern Virginians' empathy, or lack thereof, for folks elsewhere in the state, he said he was trying to convey that people typically care most about their own communities, and that the Democrats' message might have broader resonance if it were crafted as anti-working-person and not linked to geography.

By Sandhya Somashekhar  |  September 21, 2009; 4:18 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Creigh Deeds , Robert F. McDonnell , Sandhya Somashekhar , Thomas M. Davis III  
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Oh Mudcat! Route 1 in Alexandria? He might want to check out how those precincts along Route 1 voted in the 2008 Presidential election....I happen to live in one of them. We generally voted about 70% for Obama.....and furthermore, Fort Belvoir is not in Alexandria....

As to Mudcat's larger point, that McDonnell's campaign and Davis' comments are quite duplicitous in regard to rural Virginians, there is indeed merit, and I would agree with Mudcat that using the reference "working people" is probably both more accurate, and more effective.

And Mudcat, despite the fact that I live in Mount Vernon now (solid Dem NoVA) and I am very, very liberal on social issues and believe in progressive issues such as alternative energy development, etc. does NOT mean that I don't care about people in southside or southwestern VA. I think people create this divide by their own attention to it, and it is unfortunate. We are all one Virginia. My grandparents' family originated from Bedford County, VA where my family settled when they came here in the late 1600-early 1700's. Just because I don't live there now, or frankly, identify with much of the culture that exists there today, does not mean that I don't care about the people there, or the local economy there.

Dividing people works two ways, and it isn't a good strategy for Democrats, and fortunately, I think that was Mudcat's original point and the reason for his criticisms of Davis. But the comment, "they don't give a sh** about us" up there in NoVA is not particularly helpful....

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | September 21, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Mudcat is, as usual,a very poor representative of rural Virginia. The rest of us do not think his language is either funny, cute or representative of how rural people talk.

His belief that you win by dividing people is offensive to almost everyone and the success of his efforts at class warfare showed with his last client John Dewars who was as phony as they ever will be.

It's a sad day that Deeds is calling him in as a senior advisor. Deeds needs to apologize for Mudcat's comments.

In rural Virginia, a mudcat Is the bottom feeding fish that used to lurk below the outlets of sewer outlets on rural rivers.
This mudcat just spews it out nasty smelly language and politics that no one can be proud of.

We may be rednecks but we are not mudcats.

Posted by: southernvirginian | September 21, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Yet more evidence of a Deeds campaign in desperation. The McDonnell campaign should turn this around and use it against them! That would be hilarious.

Posted by: conservativemaverick | September 21, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

As a 70 year old native Virginian who has lived in Norfolk, Radford, Arlington County, Charlottesville, Virginia Beach and Fairfax County, I believe all politicians and their handlers need to drop the RoVa and the NoVa slurs (yes, that is exactly what I believe them to be, slurs). We are all Virginians.

David Saunders needs to concern himself more with Creigh Deeds lack of a Transportation proposal for the Commonwealth, and less about comments made by Tom Davis, who chose not to run for re-election, as he was miffed with his own party, and therefore, holds no sway with me.

Two "needs" which should have already been addressed and that an oldtimer like myself should not have to remind anyone of. Civility and respect for all voters will carry the vote.

Posted by: VintageLady | September 22, 2009 5:59 AM | Report abuse

I have read this carefully and I think the only bad thing is the free use of the term "redneck," which some people find offensive and other people (including some, like Mudcat, who consider themselves rednecks) glory in. It's a touchy word that Mudcat would have avoided if there had been clearer communication, but it's a word some people like and some don't.

The overall point is that Tom Davis's comment, however he spins it now, was that Davis thinks Deeds doesn't "speak the language" of northern Virginia--eg, he's an outsider from rural Virginia, in Davis's view. Davis was being divisive and setting NoVa apart from RoVA (rest of Virginia) with that comment.

Or, if we give Tom Davis the benefit of the doubt, all that would mean is BOTH sides are against being divisive (they're probably also for motherhood and apple pie). Clearly Mudcat was arguing for including people in all parts of the state, and if that was really Davis's intent, I guess they're on the same page.

Yesterday, I listened again to Deeds's victory night speech after the primary. He used the term "all corners of the state," also repeated in his new "opportunity" TV ad, at least five times. It's a major campaign theme. He's fought against us vs. them language, like Davis used, throughout the campaign.

As to the commenter who says Route One isn't in Alexandria... blame the stupid way the Post Office has set up our addresses. There are plenty of "Alexandria, VA" addresses in Fairfax County, including pretty far down Route One and across into Lee District. It's extremely annoying and inconvenient, but Mudcat is correct on that one.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | September 22, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

This highlights one of the major issues with the Deeds campaign- the candidate himself is unwilling to put a dent in his "nice guy" personna, so staff/party officials/activists are sent out to do the dirty work and he stands back with his "aw shucks" affect.

Mudcat is a jerk, and right about as often as a stopped clock, but don't think for a second that he was doing anything other than the campaign's bidding.

They wanted this out there, but Deeds hands are too soft to do his own work.

Posted by: fauxrunner | September 22, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

fairfaxvoter, no Mudcat is NOT correct on that one, sorry. Yes, there are Alexandria addresses all along Route 1--I am well aware of this because I live there! However, what I said, is that FORT BELVOIR is not in Alexandria....Mudcat apparently explained his remark about Route 1 in Alexandria by referring to Fort Belvoir. Well, Fort Belvoir is NOT an Alexandria address, and in fact, has it's own zip code and address. Just north of the base, well yes, that is Alexandria, but Fort Belvoir itself is not.

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | September 22, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Any politician will speak the language of the "real" Virginia in order to get votes and this Mudcat character is correct when he says that Northern Virginians don't really give a rat's ass about the rest of the state. I read something in the Post a couple of years ago that less than 20% of NoVa ers were born in the state and a similar number had ever ventured beyond Fredricksburg or Manassas - What does that tell you? It is true that NoVa pays a huge chunk in state taxes but we won't see a penny of it to improve the roads, schools, etc. around here, if Deeds is elected, though we most certainly will be paying more.

Posted by: gouZgounis | September 28, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

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