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Outsider Status Did In McAuliffe

Outsider Status Did In McAuliffe

By Kyle Trygstad - June 10, 2009

Just more than five months ago, Terry McAuliffe formally announced he would run for governor of Virginia and completely altered the Democratic primary landscape. What had been a battle between two longtime state legislators became a national show.

In a video e-mail to supporters in January, McAuliffe said he would "travel to every corner of the commonwealth to ask all Virginians to join our campaign to get the economy moving again." He did that -- and then some -- but the former Democratic National Committee chairman was unable to overcome glaring deficiencies in his campaign: his perception as an outsider and lack of a home base.

"It may not have turned out the way we wanted," McAuliffe said last night from the Westin Hotel in Arlington. "But it was quite a ride."

What had been viewed as a close race was anything but. State Sen. Creigh Deeds, the only candidate from outside the Beltway, won the three-man competition with 50 percent of the vote. He carried all but 11 of the state's 134 counties and independent cities, and won all but one of the 11 congressional districts. McAuliffe's heavy dose of advertising in the Richmond- and Hampton Roads-based 3rd District kept Deeds from a clean sweep.

"No one could have imagined what we have accomplished here tonight in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Deeds told a room full of celebratory supporters last night. "Whether that vote was cast in Arlington or Abingdon or Highland or Henrico or right here in Thomas Jefferson's home -- the city of Charlottesville -- it was a vote to continue the progress we've made together under Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine."

In the end, a defining moment in the campaign turned out to be an endorsement by The Washington Post just more than two weeks before the primary. Almost immediately, Deeds began touting the endorsement on campaign signs and TV ads in Northern Virginia, where more than a third of the primary votes were cast. Deeds won 47 percent of the vote in the region's ten localities.

Deeds began the year with a fundraising disadvantage, since state law bars legislators from raising money while the General Assembly is in session. Moran resigned his seat in the House of Delegates in an attempt to keep up with McAuliffe, who has a nationwide network of deep-pocketed donors. However, Deeds ended the first quarter with $1.2 million cash on hand, half of McAuliffe's bank balance but $400,000 more than Moran's.

As Deeds said then of his shortened fundraising time, he "was able to raise more money in 44 days than the previous 6 months." This got him noticed.

McAuliffe's work as a fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton helped him raise millions of dollars from around the country, which the Moran campaign consistently criticized. He brought in Bill Clinton and Will.i.am, who campaigned around the state and recorded automated calls that went out for weeks. On the Friday before the primary, he announced the endorsements of Democratic governors Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

These big names appear to only have solidified his place as the outsider.

"McAuliffe was an outsider candidate of ‘change,' who wanted to ‘shake things up,'" said Bob Holsworth, a political analyst and author of the Virginia Tomorrow blog. "But other than ‘shaking up' Republicans, Virginia Democrats are pretty happy with the way things are going for them politically -- the last two governor races, both Senate seats, the majority of the state's congressional delegation. When things are going this well, you promote from within and don't need an outsider."

Moran won more than half the votes in his home city of Alexandria, which he represented for more than a decade in the House of Delegates. His total there accounted for nearly a tenth of his statewide vote. However, Moran failed to carry the entire 8th Congressional District, which is represented by his older brother, Rep. Jim Moran.

Deeds won all 11 of the counties he represents in the state Senate -- and all but one of them with more than three-fourths of the vote.

"Unlike the other two candidates, McAuliffe did not begin with a base in Virginia," said Holsworth. "Seven months ago, there was nobody in the state who would self-identify as a McAuliffe Democrat. He had to create a base from scratch, which turned out to be very difficult."

Beginning the general election race, Deeds again holds a fundraising disadvantage. Republican Bob McDonnell, who defeated Deeds by 323 votes in the 2005 race for attorney general, resigned his post in February to focus on the campaign. Despite no primary challenger, McDonnell has been advertising in Northern Virginia and around the state for weeks, and he still had about $5 million in the bank as of June 1.

Republicans in Congress are banking, literally, on a McDonnell win in November. The GOP nominee attended the annual Republican Senate-House campaign fundraiser in Washington Monday night, and was recognized by name by Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Sessions told the large crowd that McDonnell's victory "will help fuel our resurgence across this country" -- meaning an uptick in both momentum and dollars.

McDonnell was able to sit back for the last five months as the three Democrats campaigned against each other. "It was a tough primary, and I have to say I'm sorry to see it end," McDonnell said in a tongue-in-cheek video message last night after Deeds had been announced the winner.

Democrats are now attempting to squelch any perception of intraparty strife, as they seek to unify for the long general election haul. As head of the Democratic Governors Association, Schweitzer's endorsement of McAuliffe was viewed as a questionable move by political observers. The DGA released a congratulatory statement of support from Schweitzer moments after the race was called.

And in a show of unity between the three Democrats, Deeds, Moran and McAuliffe met alongside Gov. Tim Kaine in Richmond this morning.

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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