The content of the thesis itself is about what you’d expect from someone who attended a school run by Pat Robertson. It raised at least a few eyebrows with proposals like banning contraceptives for all couples, and suggesting that women who work outside that home are detrimental to the “traditional family.” Virginia Democrats clearly thought they had a silver bullet.
In both television and radio ads that few Northern Virginians could miss, the Deeds campaign used the thesis to argue that McDonnell, a Northern Virginia native, was “not from around here anymore.” The ads didn’t work. McDonnell’s poll numbers did drop slightly after disclosure of the thesis, but the drop didn’t last long and McDonnell quickly recovered as voters absorbed the thesis issue. Rather than being 2009′s version of the George Allen “macaca” incident, the thesis quickly became irrelevant and pre-election polls show that few voters even care about it.
While Deeds was busy talking about the thesis, McDonnell was doing what he’d been doing since he began his campaign. He was talking about the issues that have been at the forefront of Virginia politics for years: the economy, transportation, and the state budget. Republicans had not connected with voters on these issues in the past, and that was one of the reasons that they’d suffered defeat in four consecutive years. By contrast, Creigh Deeds seemed to be unable to come up with proposals that consisted of anything other than generalities. Independent groups criticized Deeds for not having a coherent transportation plan as late as September, and voters clearly noticed.
Many pundits will draw national implications from what happens in Virginia on Election Day, and Democrats would do well to take notice that a state which went for a Democratic president last year is poised to overwhelmingly vote for a Republican for governor one year later. This race isn’t really a referendum on the Obama presidency, though. It’s confirmation of the fact that Republicans in purple states like Virginia can win if they concentrate on the issues that matter to voters.
And that’s a lesson that Republicans nationwide could stand to learn.