Virginia Democrats see Creigh Deeds — who spent recent weeks trying to kneecap his Republican opponent — switching the focus of his campaign to a much-needed positive message in the last month of the governor's race.
Some are urging Deeds to move faster in making the case for himself. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., openly urged Deeds at a campaign event to ignore campaign consultants and begin running positive ads.
That any campaign will turn positive in the run-up to Election Day is par for the course. But political observers say the success of Deeds, a rural state senator trailing badly in the polls, will be particularly dependent on his ability to convince voters of his own candidacy and not just the inadequacy of GOP nominee Bob McDonnell.
“I don't think we have a good idea yet who he is,” said Celia Carroll, an assistant professor of government at Hampden-Sydney College, who said some students at the school know Deeds only as “the guy who doesn't like McDonnell's thesis.”
Excerpts from recent Deeds ads: ¥ “That's McDonnell. But it's his record that's scary. He opposed equal pay for women, against improving child care, and was willing to let employers drop mammograms and cancer screenings from their health care plans.” ¥ “What kind of person writes a thesis calling working women 'detrimental to the family' … then lies about his opponent to cover up his own record?” ¥ “Bob McDonnell, we know what you wrote about working women … and we've seen all your ads and heard your excuses … but your record troubles me.”
In his recent ads, Deeds focused on painting McDonnell as a backward, socially extreme conservative, at the expense of pumping up his own record. One radio spot suggests McDonnell is opposed to breast cancer screenings. Few Deeds messages have come without a reference to the Republican's 20-year-old master's thesis, in which the then-graduate student criticized feminism, working women and gays.
With four weeks until the Nov. 3 election, Deeds supporters expect the Democrat to begin turning the focus back to his own record and policy goals.
“I don't think there's ever been any doubt that's how he was going to close, with a positive message about what he's going to do and more detail on how he's going to do it,” said Del. Dave Marsden, D-Burke.
Former Rep. Leslie Byrne, an early Deeds backer, said she also expected Deeds to close by sending a positive message. But it's McDonnell, she said, who has been an unknown quantity.
“People are just catching on that the thesis that he wrote was basically a battle plan for how he'd govern,” she said.