The State Houses – What’s At Stake in 2010

Thirty-nine states will be electing a governor during the 2009-2010 election cycle. Of these, eighteen races will not include an incumbent and four incumbents who will be running were not elected to their current position. The recession and huge budget deficits threaten to undercut the power of incumbency for governors running for reelection.

The Current Line-Up

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Jul
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Race for Richmond – Scary Business

By · Jul, 27 2009

While watching the first gubernatorial debate between Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell, I was struck by how both candidates attempted to insert national themes into the discussion. While Deeds the Democrat highlighted McDonnell’s embrace of Bush economic policies, it was the Republican who echoed national GOPer talking points the most frequently.

Today’s WaPo agrees:

Republican Robert F. McDonnell made a bet at his first debate in the Virginia governor’s race Saturday: that turning the contest into a referendum on President Obama’s increasingly contentious national agenda will sway the election.
 

Traditionally, gubernatorial elections are won or lost by paying attention to local issues. In times of war and economic recession, however, that calculus sometimes changes. McDonnell’s targets would be familiar to anyone following the DC Republican line of attacks on President Obama’s policies. Health care reform is “socialized medicine.” Cap-and-trade will hurt small businesses and drastically increase taxes on the American family. Employee Free Choice robs workers of the right to a secret ballot.

He’s hoping to scare Virginia’s business community away from the Democrats, a significant portion of which backed the campaigns of  Virginia’s two most recent governors, Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Warner won their support by convincing business leaders that Democrats would be fiscally responsible and would be better able to solve traffic congestion threatening to choke the region’s economic growth and invest in the state’s public education system assuring the workforce would be prepared for the Commonwealth’s 21st century economy.

While transportation remains among the top concerns for Virginia’s voters, the state is consistently ranked as one of the best-run in America and it’s workforce is among the nation’s best educated. Deeds needs to remind business leaders that Virginia is consistently ranked as one of the best for doing business.

Last week’s McDonnell endorsement by BET founder Sheila Johnson, a wealthy African American with strong ties to the Democratic Party,  may indicate Deeds is having trouble spreading the message of Democratic achievement.

In a state that swung dramatically toward the Democrats with Obama’s impressive 2008 victory, McDonnell is performing an intricate dance. But he appears to have skillfully put Deeds (who avoided appearing with the still-popular president during a health care town meeting in NoVa’s Annandale recently) on the defensive regarding the president’s agenda.

McDonnell has been careful to avoid invoking the president’s name, choosing instead to target “Washington” or the “Democratic Congress” when pressing Deeds on federal issues. In fact, the Republican’s few mentions of Obama during the debate Saturday were favorable. He praised the president’s position on charter schools and his promotion of responsible fatherhood.

McDonnell’s approach to Obama underscores the challenge facing Deeds. The Democrat needs to navigate federal issues cautiously while capitalizing on Obama’s popularity.

“Deeds has to be careful not to be seen as running away from Obama, who is, oh, by the way, pretty popular in the state,” said a senior White House official.

It will be interesting to see whether Obama, who will be campaigning for Deeds in early August, has changed Virginia politics. Will those first-time voters who propelled him to victory, return to the voting booths? Will they remember how he warned them that change would require a long-term effort? Or will they be disillusioned and stay home?

Virginia Republicans are hoping it’s the latter and they’re stoking the fears of “a big government, tax and spend Democrat agenda” to discourage those Obama voters. Democrats, whether they want to or not, are going to have to use the power of Obama’s personal popularity to propel them to victory, especially in tough economic times.

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