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August 12, 2009

Deeds Shakes Up Campaign

Larry Sabato, proprietor of the excellent Crystal Ball, offers this report on the Virginia gubernatorial race:

One good way to separate happy, successful campaigns from troubled ones is to watch for staff upheavals. Often, these occur in the summer when polls go south for one candidate. Right on schedule, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds -- suddenly trailing badly in poll after poll -- has shaken up his staff. Thirty-something wunderkind Joe Abbey, Deeds' manager for his upset June primary victory, has been shunted aside. (That victory was engineered by the Washington Post's editorials, not Abbey or even Deeds.) Party activists have blamed Abbey, fairly or not, for Deeds' listless campaign. Abbey will apparently retain a title and a role in the campaign, but the decisions will be made by Monica Dixon (a close associate of Sen. Mark Warner), longtime Democratic party staffer Kevin Mack, and Mo Elleithee. The latter will handle all communications and press, and he is a veteran of high-level positions with the successful gubernatorial bids of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as well as Hillary Clinton's presidential effort.

Staff shake-ups can cure some organizational maladies, but the fundamentals of an election year are beyond their control. So far Deeds has had no clear message, while Republican Bob McDonnell's campaign has run rings around the Democrat. The GOP is hungry after a decade of losses in Virginia. President Obama's popularity plunge has also set the stage for the Old Dominion's longtime "presidential jinx" to kick in. From 1977 to 2005, you could predict the gubernatorial winner simply by knowing which party controlled the White House. The other party captured the statehouse every four years.

Someday the jinx will be broken since nothing is an irreversible iron law of politics. It is possible that Obama and the economy will look better by November, and that Sen. Mark Warner and DNC Chair/Gov. Tim Kaine will find ways to pull Deeds across the finish line. (It's now very likely that former Gov. Doug Wilder will not endorse either Deeds or McDonnell -- which damages Deeds.) But with less than three months to go, Republicans smell victory in both Virginia and New Jersey, and they hope those wins will predict the 2010 midterm outcome, too.

Update: Mo Elleithee emails and says it's actually a "beefing up" of the campaign. "Joe's the manager, and he's doing a great job. Kevin's been there since before the primary, Monica since right around the time of the primary. I think everyone recognizes that this is a tough race, and it's all hands on deck time, and so everyone's stepping up their roles because there's a lot of work to do."


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