But out on the campaign trail the issue didn’t seem to come up much at all and a poll showed McDonnell stretching his lead to 12 points. The Wall Street Journal observed:
Mr. Deeds hasn’t had an easy road. He had to pull off a come-from-behind win in the primary and bring in more experienced campaign staff. And he continues to struggle to present a defining issue that resonates broadly with voters — this week, his message seemed to be education overhaul. The lack of a clear image has left him vulnerable to Mr. McDonnell’s accusation that he is in lockstep with Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats.
Mr. Deeds faces another obstacle: history. In every Virginia gubernatorial election since 1977, the party that won the presidency the previous year went on to lose the governor’s race.
“Voters in Virginia tend to take on the mission of the founding fathers, who believed in balance. Apparently this thing has become an iron law. It’s just fascinating,” said political science Prof. Larry J. Sabato at the University of Virginia. “It really does give McDonnell a major boost. While this thesis controversy helps Deeds, that can’t counteract this movement away from Obama.”
But what about that thesis? Well, the Journal agreed it hadn’t made much of an impact.
It is quite a role reversal from the campaign of 2005, in which Republican Jerry Kilgore ran a campaign strangely devoid of any issue which the voters cared about. The death penalty and illegal immigration absorbed his time, about which the mainstream tut-tutted in disapproval, while now Governor Tim Kaine talked about jobs, schools, and transportation — exactly as McDonnell is doing this time around.
Deeds has yet to come up with a defining issue. He instead has been battered by McDonnell, who has sought to corner Deeds on whether he agrees with the Democrats’ left-leaning national agenda on issues including card check, cap-and-trade, and government-centric health care reform which moderate and conservative Virginia voters view with increasing suspicion. Deeds is hoping of course that the Post, as it did with incessant coverage of Sen. George Allen’s infamous “macaca” comment in 2006, can convert this into a race about his opponent’s “scary” views and about social issues that will turn off voters in voter-rich Northern Virginia, where the hometown paper for most voters is none other than the Post.
But the Post may have its work cut out. In the upcoming debates McDonnell, a mild-mannered, detail-oriented lawyer with a wonkish array of policy positions, will be on the stage, not the caricature created by the Post. Voters may have a hard time believing that this McDonnell is the same person targeted by the Post.
And of course, he’s not. The real McDonnell has professional daughters, a record of pushing through bi-partisan legislation and a powerful argument that Virginians can play a role in pushing back on the Democrats’ leftward lurch in Washington. And that tells you why the Post has invented an entirely different McDonnell to cover.