Just as polls were closing yesterday, a rapturous thunderstorm came across Northern Virginia. By the time the storm had cleared, Creigh Deeds had convincingly vanquished the two early favorites to claim a surprise victory in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“If you asked me three weeks ago whether Creigh Deeds had a chance to win the election, I would have said probably not … Tonight proves once again why we hold elections,” offered state House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong after Tuesday’s stunning victory for the rural legislator. The results are further proof that Virginia has perhaps the most competitive and ideologically unpredictable democracy in the union.

A surprise endorsement from The Washington Post on May 22 sparked a Deeds comeback victory from third place; however, there were several key factors that made this race susceptible to an upset from the start. Much like a fast early pace in a horserace can invite a trailing horse to rally from the back to win, so too can the makeup of an election allow a candidate to defy the odds and win. The off-year election meant turnout was going to be low and inherently more volatile (see sample size). Additionally, the two front-running candidates were competing for essentially the same group of voters.

While McAuliffe and Moran were locked in a game of mutually assured destruction, Deeds was able to stay above the fray and present himself as a credible, more likable third option. McAuliffe and Moran were too slow to adjust their message at Deeds, who was able to build up momentum like a boulder rolling down Skyline Drive. Remarkably, Deeds didn’t win simply by relying on McAuliffe and Moran to split the Northern Virginia vote and cleaning up down-state; he actually won the Northern Virginia vote outright for himself.

Virginia Democrats, including Moran, were hoping the result would leave Deeds in a strong position in his rematch against Attorney General Bob McDonnell (a contest McDonnell won). Leader Armstrong believes the tiny margin of victory and Virginia’s increasingly Democratic leanings will give Deeds the upper hand. Regardless of the outcome, Virginia is likely to remain one of the rare states where candidates of all parties and passions find an open and persuadable electorate.

The views expressed in this blog do not represent the views or opinions of Generations United.