GOP Showing Signs of Life in Virginia Governor's Race

Republicans anxious to start their trek back from the political wilderness have their hopes pinned on gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia this year. And in Virginia, there are already signs of hope for Republicans eager to dispel the notion that Barack Obama has permanently altered the political terrain.

For starters, while the Republicans have already selected former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell as their own candidate, the Democratic gubernatorial primary has become a political donnybrook. What was a low-key race has recently heated up with a series of contentious debates, as Clinton friend and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe began pulling away in the polls. His two Democratic challengers, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds, have a common theme: McAuliffe is a national blowhard, not a Virginia Democrat. This local news report captures the essence of what is going on:

"When it comes to having a record fighting for Virginia Democrats, for Terry McAuliffe, necessity is the mother of invention," Moran campaign manager Andrew Roos said. "Why should we believe he'll be here for Virginia Democrats now when he has not been there for us before?"

As the June 9 primary election approaches, the two Democrats running for governor against McAuliffe have sharpened their attacks on his record, hoping to cast him as an outsider who seeks to buy his way into state politics.

The goal is to portray McAuliffe "not only as a non-Virginian, but also as a creature of money, not as one of issues and substance," explained Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor.

Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, and Moran, a former state delegate from Alexandria, want to make the case that their time in state politics makes them better suited to serve as governor.

And as a Virginia political science professor put it, "McAuliffe's weakness is McAuliffe" -- that is, his penchant for puffery and his overbearing personality. (Even liberal publications observe McAuliffe's act with a sense of bemusement, if not contempt.) But McAuliffe, with a hefty lead in the polls and plenty of money, may well be the Democratic standard-bearer in the November race. And then his opponents' comments will be fodder for his Republican opponent, McDonnell.

Democrats thought this race would be a comparatively easy win. After all, Virginia now has two Democratic senators and a Congressional delegation with a majority of Democrats. Voters, including hundreds of thousands of new residents and first-time voters, flooded to the polls in November, giving Barack Obama the first win for a Democrat since LBJ. So certainly Virginia is safely in the blue column, right?