Both sides look for wider margin in Va. rematch

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- The rematch that is Virginia’s governor’s race got started in earnest this weekend, with both sides promising a stronger performance than the 2005 version.

Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds canvassed the state in version two of a race McDonnell won by less than 400 votes in the state’s attorney general’s race four years ago – an amount that translated to about one-hundredth of a percent.

For a governor’s race that is often looked to as a gauge of the national political environment – it is just one of two the year after a presidential election – this year’s version will provide an especially potent indicator.

Democrats had yet to establish serious momentum on the national scene in November of 2005, insulating it from the national political winds. The 2009 version will have no such luxury. Both national parties have already pumped millions of dollars into their side, and a national capital just over the Northern Virginia border will train a keen eye on the result.

Democrats sought to keep the focus Saturday on Deeds, as Gov. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineGOP Senate candidate photoshops Tim Kaine shaking hands with Stalin Senate GOP candidate Corey Stewart called kneeling football players ‘thugs’ Voters will punish Congress for ignoring duty on war and peace MORE, Sens. Jim Webb and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances Senate Intel chief slams ex-CIA director for timing of claims about Trump-Russia ties Trump draws bipartisan fire over Brennan MORE and Reps. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottOvernight Health Care: Senate takes up massive HHS spending bill next week | Companies see no sign of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump claims | Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Overnight Health Care: Supreme Court nomination reignites abortion fight in states | Trump urges Sessions to sue opioid makers | FDA approves first generic version of EpiPen MORE and Glenn Nye gathered en masse on the campus of the College of William and Mary to pump up their new nominee.

“I love me some Creigh Deeds,” Kaine said, whooping up the crowd on a windy and rainy afternoon. “I love me some Creigh Deeds.”

Webb compared Deeds’s humble ascent in the Democratic primary field to his own in 2006 and said the Democrats have a winner at the top of their ticket.

“A couple of years ago, we were in the same situation,” Webb said. “He didn’t have a lot of money, but he was out there every day, and he was selling people on sincerity. We’ve got somebody who is believable, who is strong in his values.”

McDonnell campaign chairman and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said this week that the rematch is going to be “very different” than the 2005 race.

“The top of ticket gets a lot more attention this time,” Gillespie said. “Obviously McDonnell was able to win while the top of ticket lost in 2005, and he outpaced Deeds in terms of our top of the ticket in Northern Virginia.”

In that same vein, McDonnell’s campaign issued a memo Friday detailing just why it thinks the 2005 result shows Deeds’s weaknesses, and how the Republican plans to build on his razor-thin margin from that race.

McDonnell points to the fact that Deeds ran two points behind the top of the Democratic ticket, then-Lt. Gov. Kaine, and didn’t perform as well as other Democrats in the strongly Democratic northern part of the state.

“Clearly this will be a competitive election focused on important policy differences between the two candidates,” the memo states. “However, it is indisputable that the McDonnell campaign enters the race with noteworthy electoral advantages.”

Whatever “electoral advantages” can be claimed after such a tight race, it’s important to note that Deeds comes from the southern portion of the state, and unlike many Democrats who run statewide in Virginia, didn’t have a base of support inside the commonwealth’s northern Democratic stronghold.

Despite this, Deeds handily defeated two Northern Virginia candidates in each of the area’s congressional districts in the primary – a fact his campaign was quick to point out following its stronger-than-expected 24-point win.

But while whatever happens in the primary is largely insulated from national party battles, the general election will be all about national politics.

Deeds was outspent two-to-one last time while basically running on his own. This time, a more developed national Democratic fundraising apparatus is sure to help him to, at the very least, close that gap.

Even if money is more even, though, former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) noted that the state has an almost flawless track record of voting against the party in power in the White House, electing governors from the opposite party for decades and changing its congressional representation accordingly, too.

Beginning in 1977, Virginia has elected a governor of the president’s opposing party in eight straight elections. That includes three straight Democratic governors during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years, two Republicans during Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPolitical analyst: Trump's attorneys 'should be disbarred' if they allow him to talk to Mueller #BelieveAllWomen, in the Ellison era, looks more like #BelieveTheConvenientWomen Bill and Hillary Clinton pay tribute to Aretha Franklin MORE’s two terms, and Warner and Kaine during George W. Bush’s presidency.

“There’s a reason for it: It’s our proximity to Washington,” Davis said. “Voters like to balance things.”

Deeds played off that dichotomy Saturday, seeking to flip it on its head by rehashing the sins of Republican leaders in Washington in recent years.

“This election, the choices will be stark,” he said. “Do we move back to the failed policies of the past? Or do we move forward?”