Virginia Governor’s Race Potential Bellwether for Nation in 2009

By Fred Lucas | February 16, 2009 | 1:10 PM EST

Fredericksburg, Va. ( – The once solidly Republican state of Virginia went to Barack Obama in 2008, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964. The result was the culmination of nearly a decade of Democratic gains that saw the election of two popular Democratic governors and two Democratic U.S. senators.
So, state Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican, admits his campaign has significance to the future of his party, both in the state and perhaps nationally.
“We’ve been fortunate to get a lot of national support and a lot of folks will be coming in,” McDonnell told Thursday, after speaking at the Stafford County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner. “The exciting part is, I think, there is a great hunger for us to win again.”
Already, national GOP figures such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson--both presidential candidates in 2008--have stumped and raised money for McDonnell in Virginia. Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and the vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will stump in Virginia for McDonnell’s campaign.
McDonnell expects the same national intensity from Democrats, as President Barack Obama likely will stump for whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee. The Democrats have a three-way primary among state Sens. Brian Moran and Creighton Deeds, and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. The primary is on June 9.

A Rasmussen poll shows that McDonnell leads all three in a head-to-head match up.

McDonnell is resigning from his post as attorney general to be a full-time candidate on Feb. 20.

“Stick to your conservative guns but lay out a vision of solving problems that people are concerned about and getting results,” McDonnel said, adding that he does not anticipate talking about social issues much during the campaign.

“The focus of this campaign is clearly going to be the economic issues--jobs and the economy--will far and away be the top issue in the campaign,” he said. “And there will be a big gulf between my opponents and me about the things I want to do to stimulate the free enterprise system that creates jobs, and they’ll be talking about strengthening the rights of unions and raising taxes.”

But McDonnell has a partisan record to show, said McAuliffe spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith.

“Bob McDonnel is a good man, but he has spent the last seven years opposing the progressive agendas of the Warner-Kaine administrations,” Smith told “That is not the kind of leadership Virginia needs.”

McDonnell anticipates that by June 10, the Democrats will be “broke, tired and divided because they’ve got a very contentious campaign.”

Yet McDonnell should not count on that, said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Moran campaign.

“Competitive primaries make a nominee stronger,” Ferguson told “Look at [Senator] Jim Webb and [President] Barack Obama. Both had competitive primaries and both won Virginia.”

After the state’s consistent blue trend since 2001, Gov. Kaine was named chairman of the Democratic National Committee this year.

McDonnell thinks that could actually be helpful to him by affiliating Virginia’s top Democrat with an unpopular Democratic Congress.

“Gov. Kaine choosing to be the Democrat chairman does not help his party or his brand,” McDonnell said. “They’ve been winning in Virginia by almost running as moderate Republicans, both Kaine and Warner, saying they were nonpartisan problem solvers. Well, Gov. Kaine taking this job makes him the chief partisan in the entire U.S. I think it undermines that brand.”