Time To Cut Creigh Deeds A Break

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    By Paul Goldman

    Given the holiday spirit, the time has come to let Creigh Deeds come in from the cold. Whatever the failings of the Deeds for Governor campaign and the candidate, the 2009-2010 period seems a political body double for the 1993-1994 time frame. Back then, George Allen, a huge underdog going into the summer, ended up a landslide winner. 12 months later, the GOP won over 50 House seats in the Congressional elections, putting the country in the temporary grips of Newt Gingrich’s certifiable megalomania [Republicans also won control of the Senate].  

    Last year, Senator Deeds, who had lost the closest statewide election in Virginia history to Bob McDonnell in their race for Attorney General, was like Mary Sue Terry, ahead in the polls as summer arrived. But it wasn’t long before his fortunes, along with that of other Democrats, started down a very slippery political slope. The slide got moving fast with a wipeout of the 2009 state ticket, and then, 12 months later, had accelerated to Republicans winning more congressional seats than at any time since 1938 [the GOP might have won the Senate too if they hadn’t nominated some of the least qualified individuals ever.]

    The times, as Mr. Dylan might have said, were achangin’, only the full extent of the political earthquake wasn’t clear with those first early summer rumblings. But what was first dismissed as some polling “noise” soon grew louder and louder until it could be identified as the wheels of a coming train wreck.  Could Deeds and Mary Sue Terry actually have won in 2009 and 1993 respectively? Of course, the polls said they could: but it would have also required a much more creative and daring mind set than they or their advisors possessed or ever so claimed. Deeds and Terry were very conventional thinkers and they surrounded themselves with the same at the precisely the wrong time: both camps underestimated their opponents and overestimated their own abilities.

     

    In that regard, I stick to my general rule: campaign wise, it is usually easier to be seen as running a smart campaign when you are pushing an underdog who gains any kind of traction. Thus, an underdog who say gets 47% is usually seen as running a kick ass campaign – gee, he/she almost did it – while the winner gets little credit for the 53% – they almost blew a sure thing. It is the nature of the public relations business.

    But the reality is something different: to a very large degree, events are in the saddle and they ride mankind as Emerson said, meaning most campaigns go with the flow and get carried with the tide even though they seem to proactive. When a huge political Tsunami is therefore hitting, very few campaigns are ready to accept reality, think outside the proverbial box, much less dare throw the Hail Mary until it is already far too late.

    If anyone thinks Brian Moran or Terry McAuliffe would have even come close to winning, then they probably think Sarah Palin has a chance to be the next President.

    Had Terry run in 1989, or Deeds in 2005 for Governor, the campaigns they ran, the campaigns they were comfortable with running, would have won in my judgment. Thanks to the Supreme Court decision on abortion, Doug Wilder was able to win a race that he would have otherwise lost by 10% all other things being equal. In 2005, Governor Mark Warner was strong enough to have carried Deeds over the finish line.

    But 1993-1994 turned out to be a killing field for Democrats, we forget that Ollie North was probably the only Republican in Virginia that year who couldn’t beat Chuck Robb, much like Sharon Angle was probably the only GOP contender Harry Reid could beat in Nevada in the 2009-2010 period. Such is politics.

    Simply put: Creigh Deeds has suffered enough. He lost, but it wasn’t a case of losing as a favorite: given the terrain, he was going uphill. We need to let him come in from the cold.

    2011 is a new year and in Virginia, this means a new election season. Senator Deeds can help the party get back on track and so let’s all resolve to put the past behind us, and move forward together, this is usually a good strategy when your platoon has taken as many casualties as we have.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Yes, it’s time to quit beating up Creigh Deeds for the campaign he ran (or, didn’t run). Few people knew that his personal problems were blowing up in his face at a time when he should have been running hard. You’re right that Moran and McAuliffe probably also would have lost, but perhaps fewer people would have gone down with them.

      Mary Sue Terry and Creigh Deeds both were rural candidates with absolutely no base in the population centers of the state. Plus, I remember well how Doug Wilder campaigned hard in every corner of the state, something that evidently didn’t occur to Deeds or Terry. (Heck, he even visited a little country store a short distance from my then-home in Amherst County, in the process wining a few good ole boy votes in the neighborhood.)

      You know as well as anyone can that Doug Winder was an astute politician with a powerful campaign that year. Unfortunately, Terry and Deeds ran like they were entitled to win. They weren’t.

      There is a strange mood in the country right now. People sense that we are facing problems that appear intractable and they want leadership and action. If the Republicans play their hand wrong, their gains will be very, very short-lived. The “Party of No” had better learn how to say, “Yes.”

    • jggrey

      Deeds ran the most uninspiring campaign I can remember.  

    • Goldmanusa

          First, to jggrey, given your comment, it would help me to know (1) what strategy you think would have been successful and (2)what winning strategies have you ever set, or been a major player in setting, for a statewide candidate in VA or anywhere else. I say this for this reason only: at some point, talk is cheap, everyone has 20-20 hindsight, except maybe President Bush, since based on a recent TV interview, he still is blind to reality.  Beating up Deeds doesn’t impress me, and frankly, it doesn’t prove anything. So if you have some other than “I Told You” to bring to the table, this is the time to do it.

           Second, to Elaine, the differences between Wilder’s first campaign, for LG, and the second, for the Big House, were huge. Both times, the Republican opposition made some key, big mistakes, in some measure because they believed an African-American couldn’t win as their key staff had been raised on the politics of the state so naturally it seemed impossible.

           Fact: Had Coleman been Wilder’s opponent in 1985, it is most likely that Coleman wins given the nature of a lower ballot office election due to Coleman’s decent run against super strong Chuck Robb in 1981. Had formner Senator Trible been the opponent in 1989, he would won easily assuming he didn’t make a fatal blunder. Moreover, had Coleman’s camp not believed their big lead in the polls after their upset over Trible, then they would have done what was always the logical thing right away. But they didn’t, and soon it was too late.

            This takes nothing away from the Wilder campaigns, indeed why would I do that? But you can’t be successful especially in bringing historic change unless you are realistic about the path to success.

            Wilder’s brilliance is less what was done but rather in the willingness to dare challenge the conventional wisdom in strategy. He didn’t win the Bronze Star for Valor in Korea by hiding in a foxhole. If ever a person and a time came together, it was VA in late 1980s.

             Yet it was in some measure a matter of making a virtue out of a necessity and this has to be understood, as Emerson said, you get to pick your horse, but not necessarily the ride.  

    • K in VA

      Deeds deserves blame for running a crappy campaign, and nothing can change that. That said, the election is over, and there’s no reason to continue punishing him.

      Anyhow, I’d give a very large share of blame to all the idiots who picked him to run. And, no, I won’t ease up on blaming them because they’re liable to repeat such mistakes in the future.

    • MorrisMeyer

      Virginia is not yet a Democratic state, and like it or not, it takes the work and energy of thousands of Democratic activists to win state wide.

      When you run away from the Democratic party (green jobs, health care, Obama) those activists lose their motivation to work for the candidate.  If you run ads against climate change – you can be damn certain that those activists that want to see action on this pressing problem will not donate to your campaign.

      This lack of conviction (see YouTube of the “what kind of Democrat are you” question that Creigh got on the campaign trail) is very visible to the activists, but it is also picked up by the general electorate.

      My mother who has never voted for a Democrat in a general election was considering Howard Dean in 2004 because he spoke clearly with conviction. 2009 was a bell-weather year in Virginia for the rest of the nation, but even in 2010 the statistics bear this out. 88% of the Democratic Progressive Caucus returned vs 50% of the BlueDogs.

      We need leaders that believe Democrats can win an all the corners of this state.  I like Creigh and believe that his success in winning in a tough part of Virginia has a big role in helping Democrats win in the parts of Virginia that don’t look like Fairfax and Arlington counties.  

      Given the Tea Party and their lurch to the right and their purge of moderates, we need to provide a strong, clear alternative in our candidates.  Fundamentally though we need candidates who are willing to use clear messaging to get the Republicans to play on our field, rather than trying to thread some needle and playing on the Republican field.

    • Colston Newton

      Mary Sue Terry was on the wrong side of just every hot button issue that came up while she was AG. (Women in VMI and the like.)At the time I wasn’t attuned to the GOP tide that was running, but I predicted her loss. I didn’t think and don’t think she could’ve won no matter what was going on nationally.

    • VADEM

      not entirely sure that Deeds can win re election in the 5th if he decides to run that is. The nutjobs will be coming out of the woodwork to run against him.

      I agree it’s time to get off his back. I believe the man has suffered enough already between the loss and his marriage failing. No matter what we think about his campaign, he is a good person.

    • The Porcupine

      There’s a missing element in nearly every post mortem I’ve read or heard about recent elections: Who does the grunt work of campaigns?

      Those analysts who talk about the participation of issue-based activists come the closest, but I mean the cadre of people who do the phone calling and doorknocking no matter who the candidate and how pure the candidate’s stands.

      Democrats have always relied on unions to not only turn out the union vote but also reliably supply the callers and knockers. Moreover, unions provided issue education and peer pressure to the blue collar citizenry. With the decline in union membership nationwide, the Democrats no longer have that large reliable grassroots GOTV workforce, and have yet to replace it. Too many of the middle class Dems still expect someone else to do the grunt work.

      In 2008 we won on segments of the population that got caught up in the wave: Youth who believed the 2008 election was the political version of American Idol, Blacks and IndieLibs who wanted the Dream to reach the next level, and anti-Bush leaguers. To them 2009 was irrelevant, and 2010 nearly so.

      The Republicans learned long ago how to GOTV by campaign innovations use of money, and greater numbers of middle class people willing to devote time to their causes.

    • VA Blogger

      There were only two public polls ever released showing Deeds with a lead: both were taken immediately after the primary. The first was by Rasmussen, and it was a one-day poll taken literally the day after the primary; the second was an “internal” poll for media consumption by the Democratic Party. Both were quickly contradicted by other public polls, and McDonnell, as he did before the primary, enjoyed a lead in the polls through the end of the Election.  

    • pontoon

      I believe that no candidate can just count on the population centers to win elections.  Case in point was the Perriello campaign.  Tom did fairly well in the population centers, but not so well in the counties with a few exceptions.  Those county exceptions also had fairly well-organized Dem Committees…with folks to do the grunt work…or who could find folks from the outside to help with the grunt work.  Yes, it certainly takes a lot of manpower and resources to get to the votes in the rural counties, but every vote counts no matter how far off the beaten path.  During the Obama campaign we went after those votes.  I don’t believe we did in 2009 and 2010.

    • MorrisMeyer

      The GOP has an advantage in that their electorate is made of folks that stay in their houses and stay in their voting patterns.  Our electorate is transient, mobile, and more likely to move every couple of years.

      During the primary when I was working with Yohannes Abraham in the Fairfax office (who later went on to be the OFA Virginia Field Director during the general) I stressed the importance of going after “UU Turf”.  This was a combination of the Unidentified and the Unregistered voters in the VAN.

      By canvassing these voters OFA and local activists put 400,000 new voters in play in VA in 2008, 3 million nationwide.  It’s one of the reasons that we had such a nice margin in Virginia on election night.

      In Virginia having elections every year we need to make this sort of field work a CONSTANT, year-in and year-out.  6 months doing the hard work of making sure we hand off the best aggregate voter gradient possible once campaigns ramp up after the primary.

      I know for sure that OFA and the Perriello campaigns went after that expanded electorate in 2010.  The problem is that they were going after two year old data (I doubt the Deeds campaign put this sort of effort into the VAN data).

    • I was someone who supported the Deeds campaign from the moment that he announced that he was running.  

      As the campaign went on, the most glaring problem to me was there was never a “I’m Creigh Deeds, and this is why I’m running” commercial.  There was never a commercial that showed who he was, why he was running.  No photos of him getting married, holding his children at the hospital.  No videos of his fifth grade teacher saying how he always was fighting to make a difference in the world.  Nothing but relentless attacked against McDonnell and that stupid thesis.

      Of course, we know now that such a video must have been intensely painful for Deeds and his family.  I understand it now.  And I’m saddened by it — not only because I hated to see a good man (and his family) hurt, but because that personal pain likely cost many other Democrats dearly.

    • leedynamo

      2009: There was no momentum.  If anything, the Deeds campaign drove itself backwards by trashing young voters.  Sadly, he was enabled by my State Senator, Mary Margaret Whipple and others.

      When you not only lose but lose stupidly you pay a price.  I am not saying he deserves the ignominy treatment or something.  I am saying apologia and excuse making from people like Ward Armstrong at DPVA state-wide meetings only perpetuates the problem.

      Lets be honest.  That is how one learns.

      We don’t need politicians or old time hacks running the state party.

      We need a dedicated, smart, proven, experienced operative who has earned the trust of people all over the state.  Yes, I segued into an argument on behalf of the obvious choice for DPVA Chair.

      Because politics is about values.  It is not about helping your friends or finding a nice, comfortable parking spot for a politician.

    • NotJohnSMosby

      Don’t run for governor if you’re in the middle of a divorce.  You’re probably not going to do very well.

      I think Creigh owes an apology to every Dem who voted for him in primary.  He knew the divorce was coming and should have dropped out of the primary since he knew it would cost him.  I guess we now all know why he took off last June/July after the primary, but in my opinion, one should attempt to fix their marriage on their own time, not take it in the middle of an extremely important campaign.

      So, no, I’m not really ready to forgive Creigh for deciding to campaign for governor while getting a divorce.

      • Elaine in Roanoke

        There has been more than one occasion – many more – lately when I have questioned Doug Wilder’s motives, etc., but that campaign for governor was superb in its daring. In office, Wilder never got as much credit for maneuvering the state finances through a recessionary period as he deserved. Of course, he got to work with a Dem legislature. That made things easier.

        You know, my husband and I spent a pile of money to attend that Wilder inaugural in Richmond. That was one day when I was mighty proud to be a native Virginian. Who would have thought Wilder could pull it off? Well, I guess Doug Wilder did. And you. 🙂