The real campaign begins

Published 10:24 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Virginia Democrats turned out in scanty numbers on Tuesday for the primary election that would pick their gubernatorial candidate for November, but they resoundingly turned away two contenders whose roots were in the Northeast and whose time in the commonwealth has been spent in the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Northern Virginia.

One of those contenders was Terry McAuliffe, who gained fame as the money-man for Bill Clinton’s successful White House bids in the 1990s. He also ran Hillary Clinton’s successful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from New York. McAuliffe is a seasoned politico, and his campaign was well funded and boasted lots of young, eager volunteers. Among many, he was an early favorite to win on Tuesday, especially considering the voting power of Northern Virginia, which has been a major contributor to Virginia’s move toward liberal politics.

If McAuliffe, a New Yorker transplanted to Fairfax County, could have counted on the Northern Virginia vote, voters on Tuesday may very well have put him on the ticket. Instead, he fought a long campaign against a veritable cross-town rival, Alexandria’s Brian Moran, also a transplanted New Englander.

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The two split the important Northern Virginia vote, leaving Southwest Virginia’s Sen. Creigh Deeds — the only native Virginian on the ballot — to mop up majorities throughout the rest of the commonwealth.

Many Virginians likely went to the polls on Tuesday asking, “Creigh who?” But beating Republican Bob McDonnell and therefore retaining a Democratic governorship is an important enough goal for the party that the question isn’t likely to be asked again in November. Expect the airwaves to be awash with Deeds ads financed by the campaign and various Democratic political action committees.

Already, the three Democratic candidates have agreed to put their differences aside for the sake of the party and for the purpose of defeating McDonnell. “Bob McDonnell … has done everything he could to stand in the way of Virginia’s progress,” McAuliffe said in an election-night e-mail to Virginia supporters, setting the tone for the fight that lies ahead.

Get ready for a long and expensive campaign.