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Excerpts: Post reporters discuss election

Rosalind Helderman and Amy Gardner of The Post were online earlier today to answer questions about the governor's race and the down-ballot campaigns. Read the full discussion transcript. Excerpts follow.

Richmond, Va.: You've reported several times that Deeds is having a tough time energizing Democrats and Obama voters and that was something he was going to emphasize over the next two weeks. However, last night he waffled on his support for the public option. Combined with his distancing himself from many of Obama and Congressional Democrat policies, is Deeds contradicting his proclaimed path to victory?

Amy Gardner: Great question. I think this speaks to the heart of Deeds's challenge -- the fact that he is a conservative Democrat, many of whose positions are to the right of President Obama, but who is seeking election in a year when the clear path to victory for a Democrat is to rally Obama voters. I don't know if Deeds has "waffled," but certainly he has wobbled a little bit trying to explain his views on health care reform and cap and trade legislation without sounding like he is contradicting Obama and without alienating those who support the president.

Charlotte, N.C.: With Obama set to campaign for Deeds at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, what impact do you think that will have on the votes of white Independent and Democratic voters in the Hampton Roads area? The strategy of the campaign stop seems mainly directed to the significant population of blacks in the area. I wonder how much of an affect this event will have on whites, since McDonell was a legislator from here.

Amy Gardner: Well, two thoughts. First, I think it's a mistake to assume that Obama appeals only to black voters. His strong showing in all the suburbs of Virginia last year tells us otherwise. Secondly, I wouldn't put white independent and white Democratic voters in the same category -- especially in Virginia Beach, McDonnell's hometown and a place where he is likely to perform well on Nov. 3 among independents. Obama's appearance certainly is intended to rally large African-American centers across the state, including Hampton Roads. But it's also intended to reach core Democratic voters, including white voters, in those same regions.

Northern Virginia: In my district, some Democrats are most worried about the delegate race (our incumbent is a Democrat, but reporting and polling on these races is so thin that we are all having to guess who is in good shape and who is not). Someone asked me yesterday "how it looked" for "the election" and when I answered about Deeds, it turned out they meant the delegate race. Are there patches of intensity (greater participation by voters) where we have tight delegate races, or are most voters not tuned into those either?

Amy Gardner: Sadly, even incumbent delegates in Virginia have shamefully low name identification even in their own districts. Voters don't pay attention to their state legislatures the way they should. But there are quite a few hotly contested races across the state, including Northern Virginia, where three Democratic incumbents in particular are fighting to hang on. They are Margi Vanderhye of McLean (34th), Chuck Caputo of western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun (67th) and David Poisson of eastern Loudoun (32nd). On the Republican side, two longtime incumbents, Dave Albo of the Lorton area (42th) and Tom Rust of Herndon (86th) have long been targeted by Democrats in increasingly blue-tilting areas. All of these races are being run hard and with lots of money, including infusions from the state parties.

Arlington, Va.: Does it look like the Republican candidates for Lt. Governor and Attorney General will win because they are on the same ticket with McDonnell? I'm wondering because Virginia's touch screen voting makes it quite easy to split tickets.

Rosalind Heldernan: There are far fewer public polls on the downticket races than on the big event. Every one I've seen has put Democrats Jody Wagner and Steven Shannon well behind Republicans Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli. In fact, the most recent Post poll had Bolling, Cuccinelli and Bob McDonnell all ahead by the same margin--9 points--which may show the power of coattails in determining people's votes.

Still, Virginia has a long tradition of ticket splitting. It happened in both 2001 and 2005. Wagner is well known in the Virginia Beach area and could pick up votes in that area from McDonnell supporters. She might also get support from people who'd like to see a woman in office. Steve Shannon benefits from ties to Northern Virginia. Plus, Ken Cuccinelli is a controversial figure. Some voters might be happy to support McDonnell but feel Cuccinelli is just too conservative for them.

Richmond, Va.: Did your prolonged reporting on McDonnell's thesis actually harm Deeds as today's PPP results -- even though you don't like their methodology -- say people have been turned off by the constant harping on it?

Amy Gardner: Well, certainly there's an argument to be made that we did some "prolonged" reporting on the thesis, but it wasn't with the goal of helping Deeds. It was a legitimate news story that then took on a life of its own and that we continued to cover. Also, as much as I'd like to think otherwise, most of those polled are not reading The Washington Post. They're seeing Deeds's ads, which focused heavily on the thesis for many weeks. Voter turn-off in that instance is directed at Deeds, I think.

Reston, Va.: I'm a female voter, probably for McDonnell, mostly because I feel that Deeds went out of his way to not say anything about his position, and to just attack McDonnell. When are politicians going to realize that they cut off their own noses when they just go after their opponent, and don't address where they stand and what they want to do?

Rosalind Heldernan: Thank you for this perspective. You are not alone in holding this view--a recent Post poll found that 56 percent of likely voters thought Deeds had run a mostly negative campaign while 60 percent of voters though McDonnell had run a mostly positive campaign.

The Deeds campaign lately has been talking a great deal about how vastly outspent they are now on the air by negative ads being run against them by McDonnell and various Republican groups. I just spent 24 hours in Roanoke, where I can tell you it feels like every other ad is a negative ad against Deeds, run by McDonnell, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the NRA. But Deeds certainly had a heavy rotation going against McDonnell on social issues for a while, particularly in Northern Virginia. Campaigns run negative ads because they do tend to work. But once a politician has earned a reputation for running negative ads, it's hard to break through that perception.

Alexandria, Va.: It seemed one great line heard from the debate was McDonnell's retort when asked about slow state expenditures that Tim Kaine (D) as been an absentee governor for the last year or so. Did this play well to the audience and will the DEM incumbent hurt Deeds's chances?

Rosalind Heldernan: Yup, Republicans including McDonnell have increasingly been running straight at Gov. Tim Kaine in this election for being a "part-time" governor and splitting his time with the Democratic National Committee. McDonnell hit that note particularly strongly in last night's debate. Yes, it seemed to play well in the audience. But it's hard to know what impact it's had on the state. The Post's last poll had Kaine's approval rating at a very healthy 60 percent. My own sense is that the attack has done some damage to Deeds--not because people are necessarily unhappy with Kaine as governor but because it's forced Deeds to confront head-on his party's national agenda. After all, Kaine agrees with it--he travels the country talking about it. Deeds has struggled to figure out how best to talk about those issues.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  October 21, 2009; 4:58 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Amy Gardner , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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