Creigh Deeds’ believes he has the best chance to win against the Republican nominee, current Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell. After all, he proved he was McDonnell’s match by coming within 360 votes, out of two million cast, of beating him in ‘05.
(The following is the latest in a three-part series based on exclusive News-Press interviews with all three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia in the June 9 primary.)
In the first of these interviews with the three candidates running neck-and-neck for the Democratic nomination in next Tuesday’s primary to become Virginia’s next governor, we met Former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe in his spacious campaign headquarters near his home on the fringes of Tysons Corner in McLean. In the second, Former State Del. Brian Moran visited the News-Press office, and the interview was conducted in a cluttered conference room. In the case of State Sen. Creigh Deeds, the conversation took place in a booth at the popular Kilroy’s Restaurant, just off the intersection of the I-495 Beltway and Braddock Road.
Because of its proximity to the Beltway, Kilroy’s is a regular pit-stop for fast-moving politicians, especially those running exhausting statewide campaigns, and especially if they’re Democrats, since a local Dem politician is a part-owner of the joint.
Since Deeds was taking time out following an appearance before the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and before heading into the night for points much further south, it was natural when he settled into the booth for a chat that the conversation would kick off with a brief discussion of highly-caffeinated soft drinks. I expressed my preference for Diet Mountain Dew, but Deeds said he’d shifted from that since his last statewide campaign in 2005 to Pepsi Max, which he claimed has even more caffeine, but tastes better. For years, he said, it took two Mountain Dews to make it home from Richmond to Bath County late at night.
Though he’s from distant Bath County beyond the Shenandoah, home to the famous Homestead resort, Deeds and I have been familiar with each other, having encountered him numerous times when he made a nearly-successful run as the Democratic nominee for Virginia Attorney General in 2005, losing by a few hundred votes, and in occasional visits by him to Northern Virginia before officially kicking off his run for the gubernatorial nomination last year.
I was there in January when Deeds exhibited courage under fire by appearing before the board of the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Club at a home near Pentagon City. He said there that despite voting numerous times to put the anti-gay marriage Marshall-Newman amendment on the ballot, that he stands for equality and “civil union” benefits. He grew up in the country, he explained, and always has believed that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” But he shrugged, and said that he’s a “work in progress,” still willing to learn and understand. “Hey, I’m here, aren’t I?,” he reminded the Partisans.
His main pitch to them, and to all his audiences, is that he represents the candidate with the best chance to win against the Republican gubernatorial nominee, current Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, in November. After all, he proved he was McDonnell’s match by coming within 360 votes, out of two million cast, of beating him in 2005, and he has the experience of running tough statewide campaigns, something neither of his opponents have had until this current campaign. He’s also the only candidate with a very slight southern twang in his voice.
He quoted a popular Charlottesville blog with a focus on state politics that claimed if he wins the nomination, it will be “impossible” for McDonnell to win in November.
And this is a compelling argument, especially since Deeds, surprisingly to many including him, won the endorsement of the powerful Washington Post in a lengthy, well-reasoned editorial last month.
Deeds, in fact, was still bathing in the afterglow of that endorsement when he met with me at Kilroy’s. It virtually overnight thrust him into the midst of what is truly now a three-way brawl for the nomination in the upcoming June 9 election. He confessed he’d not focused on Northern Virginia as he has elsewhere in the state, having spent no money on television advertising in this area, but the Post did him a huge favor by almost single handedly putting him in play up here. (For the record, unlike the Post, the News-Press has endorsed Moran for governor).
“The Post makes our case,” Deeds said. “They said I am the best prepared to lead in the (Mark) Warner, (Tim) Kaine mold, would be the most effective, and can beat McDonnell.”
“I am beyond pleased I got the Post endorsement,” he said. “I knew they were taking me seriously when I met with five or six people on their editorial staff for a lengthy interview the week before, but I didn’t expect them to leap over two candidates from Northern Virginia to endorse me.”
The Post editorial, he added, “has forced people in Northern Virginia to take a fresh look at me.”
Until the Post endorsement, the best thing Deeds had going for him around these parts was the formidable endorsement of veteran State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple. Asked why she endorsed him, Whipple put it simply, “Because he can win in November!” Regional elected officials like State Sen. Dick Saslaw, State Sen. Janet Howell and State Del. Chap Peterson have also been behind him.
Compared to his run for attorney general in 2005, Deeds said, he’s not only switched to Pepsi Max, but he said that running for the top of the three-slot ticket is a lot different than running for the bottom of it, when, he said, “Not a lot of people are paying attention to you.”
But more importantly, he said, “Your vision is much broader as a gubernatorial candidate, beyond just explaining what your job is about.”
“I have a vision for all Virginians,” he said. “My first job will be to restore confidence in the economy. This is the worst crisis since the Depression. I plan to create jobs with a transportation plan for all Virginia. It will include three aspects, being long-term in scope, statewide and creative.”
His transportation vision includes everything from light rail, bus rapid transit and high-speed rail, he said, as well as tax incentives for telecommuting and flexible work schedules to ease congestion. “It has to provide benefits statewide, and not involve pitting one part of the state against another. We have to think in terms of what Virginia is going to look like in 50 or 100 years.”
He cited what he called a “Field of Dreams” strategy, as in, “If you build it, they will come.” The key to bringing in new business to Virginia lies in education, he said. “We have to have the smartest workforce to attract new business,” he said.
Higher education is the center of his focus, including “retooling the community college system to provide for 70 new degree programs, and to stabilize tuitions and make them more affordable.”
He cited the Northern Virginia Community College system (NOVA) as representing an opportunity for partnerships with the business community to prepare young people for new jobs, retooling their skill sets away from the steep losses in manufacturing jobs. “We need to be able to take laid off textile workers and turn them into pharmaceutical workers,” he said.
“We don’t want them competing for low-paying jobs, but for smart jobs of the 21st century, with energy technology, renewable and alternative energy as the next big thing,” he said.
“Virginia already has a business-friendly environment to attract new commerce here. To compete now, we need to create the transportation and other infrastructures to provide jobs, and we need an intellectual infrastructure, as well.”
Then, after a couple of obligatory photographs, with Pepsi Max in hand, he bid adieu to Kilroy’s and me, and headed off to his next destination of the night.