By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Just days before President Barack Obama is scheduled to campaign for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, the White House is sending signals that Deeds's campaign is over, or as tweeted by CNN's Peter Hamby this morning, "keeping it classy by trashing Deeds anonymously."
At issue is a Washington Post story headlined "Deeds ignored advice, White House says."
Publicly airing complaints that Deeds is a weak candidate, one who didn't embrace key Obama constituencies—especially African-Americans in Richmond and the Norfolk/Newport News area (Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder's refusal to endorse Deeds was surely a blow)—and indeed, has not fully embraced Barack Obama himself, all lays the groundwork that if Deeds loses, despite the best efforts of the Obama team, he has no one to blame but himself.
Anyone who was worked political campaigns can tell you that when your candidate is down in the polls, the Washington chattering class, regardless of party, will start pointing fingers and say, "If only Candidate X was listening to our advice..." Anonymously, of course. This is what's happening to Creigh Deeds now.
The Deeds campaign is responding as best it can. Mo Elleithee, a Deeds campaign spokesman and highly regarded Democratic campaign veteran, told the Post the campaign "enjoyed a tremendous relationship with the White House," as well as the DNC and Democratic Governors Association, in addition to receiving significant help with specific requests.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a campaign flack doing his job, but the lifts from these organizations have been significant: key visits from Obama and Vice President Biden and E-mails to Obama's "Organizing for America" list. (Being on the list, I can vouch for receiving several E-mails urging support and attendance at events.) Current Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, also the chair of the Democratic National Committee, wants to avoid an embarrassing loss in his home state and surely has helped the Deeds campaign with these requests and key fundraising support.
That Deeds has not been a better general election candidate is surprising. In the primary, he rocketed past Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran, his two better-known, better-funded opponents, based on the two bludgeoning each other and the Washington Post endorsing Deeds.
Administration allies seeking to distance Obama from any Virginia fallout have tried to contrast Deeds's efforts to those of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who is locked in a re-election race that will go to down to the wire. However, New Jersey is about as traditionally Democratic as a state can be and Corzine's re-election rests solely on whether he can overcome his low poll numbers; Virginia has become a swing state where the president's falling popularity is felt throughout the state—a key component of why Deeds faced steep odds to begin with.
The Post story codifies the Democratic conventional wisdom that the Virginia gubernatorial race is all but over. President Obama will still campaign for Deeds in Newport News. He'll say all the right things and publicly play the role of the good soldier, even while his political team plays the same old politics as usual which he promised to change.