Democratic candidates for Virginia's House are subtly distancing themselves from Creigh Deeds' struggling bid for governor as the top of their ticket faces mounting troubles.
While not denouncing Deeds or supporting his Republican opponent, Bob McDonnell, down-ballot Democrats are downplaying the importance of the marquee race's outcome and emphasizing themselves as self-contained candidates.
“They're starting to distance themselves from Creigh,” said Ben Tribbett, who runs the popular liberal blog Not Larry Sabato. “You can hear the House candidates at debates highlighting endorsements that Creigh didn't get … you're starting to see the Democratic candidates proactively cite organizations that support them and McDonnell, to try to win that crossover.”
Recent governor's race polls:
¥ Washington Post: McDonnell 53, Deeds 44
¥ SurveyUSA: McDonnell 54, Deeds 43
¥ Rasmussen: McDonnell 51, Deeds 42
Deeds, trailing badly in polls, is looking increasingly snakebit, and Republicans are salivating over the idea of sweeping the three statewide races and strengthening their majority in the House of Delegates. The GOP is capitalizing on Deeds' willingness to sign a tax increase to pay for transportation, while Deeds' attacks on McDonnell's 20-year-old graduate school thesis are offering diminishing returns, polls show.
The situation has dashed any hopes Democrats had of riding Deeds' coattails to victory, and left some candidates wistful for the recent past.
Images of Mark Warner, the popular former Democratic governor and current senator, are in ample supply on House candidates' Web sites, while Deeds' face is relatively scarce. Few House candidates have gone near Deeds' social issues-based attack strategy, avoiding topics like abortion in favor of bread-and-butter matters like transportation.
Some legislative hopefuls, while affirming their support for the Democratic candidate, said the governor's race just wasn't relevant to theirs.
“We don't really discuss the governor's race very much. It just doesn't come up,” said Erik Curren, candidate for the 20th District in the Shenandoah Valley, describing his talks with voters. He said they were far more concerned with local issues. On the issue of McDonnell's thesis, which criticizes gays, working women and feminists, Curren said the document came up with one out of every 1,000 voters he speaks with.
Carter Turner, running in Virginia's 8th House District that includes Roanoke and Salem, also said he's fully supportive of Deeds, with whom he's appeared at several events. Turner, however said he was “focusing on my campaign. I'm really not worried about his.”
Republicans, on the other hand, hope to use Deeds as a cudgel against House Democratic candidates, especially on tax issues.
“If Deeds runs like we think he's going to run, there's going to be a negative coattail effect there,” said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins. “Pressing their candidates on where they stand on the tax issue that Deeds wants to bring in, every one of them that says they're supporting him becomes suddenly a vulnerable target.”
Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold disputed the notion that down-ballot Democrats were distancing themselves from the Deeds campaign, pointing to the Democratic nominee’s numerous joint public appearances with House candidates.
“The Deeds campaign is working closely with the united Democratic ticket to keep Virginia moving forward,” Leopold said.