Republican Wins Virginia Governor’s Race
Republican Bob McDonnell, who played down ties to his party's Christian conservative base to campaign as a pragmatic centrist, easily won the Virginia governor's race Tuesday and turned the state into a political speed bump for President Obama.
"Eight months ago, I applied to be governor of Virginia, and tonight you have given me the job," McDonnell told cheering supporters in Richmond.
McDonnell, 55, headed a GOP sweep of Virginia's three statewide contests, a year after Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate in four decades to win the Old Dominion. National party chairman Michael Steele said the GOP's "overwhelming" Virginia victory "is a blow to President Obama and the Democrat Party. It sends a clear signal that voters have had enough of the president's liberal agenda."
Independent voters, a key to Obama's victory last year, voted nearly 2-1 in favor of McDonnell over Democrat Creigh Deeds, according to Associated Press interviews with voters as they left polling places. About a quarter of voters said their vote was intended to express opposition to Obama.
"We didn't get the results we wanted tonight," Deeds said as he conceded defeat in the governor's race. Adding to the sting for Democrats: Virginia is home to their national party chairman, Gov. Tim Kaine. Kaine is barred by state law from succeeding himself.
Virginians have long snubbed the party in the White House: Not since 1973 has a candidate of the president's party won the Virginia gubernatorial race.
At a debate in September after the president's health care plan took a drubbing in town hall meetings, Deeds, 51, demurred when asked whether he considered himself a "Barack Obama Democrat." He said, "I'm a Creigh Deeds Democrat."
Obama made two appearances for Deeds, at a fundraiser in August and a rally a week before the election. In the campaign's closing weeks, Deeds embraced Obama and distributed fliers that showed the two men together, urging voters to "send a message" to Obama's critics by electing Deeds. The president sent a letter to more than 300,000 Virginia voters Democrats identified as being part of the "Obama surge" last year.
"Too little, too late," said Stephen Farnsworth, a George Mason University political scientist. "The Deeds campaign failed to appreciate the advantage Obama could bring."
McDonnell's campaign was nearly derailed by the revelation of a graduate thesis he wrote suggesting women should not work outside the home.
The Republican fought back by emphasizing his efforts to promote and support working women and his commitment to state economic issues, such as unclogging Virginia's highways.
He avoided issues and people linking him to the GOP's socially conservative wing. Notably absent from the 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls who stumped for McDonnell: Sarah Palin.
McDonnell told WUSA-TV in Washington that he had no knowledge of taped phone calls Palin made for Virginia Republicans in the closing hours of the campaign. But he said, "I'll take all the help I can get."