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First thoughts: Mr. Deeds

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Mr. Deeds: What was surprising about last night's Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia wasn't that Creigh Deeds beat Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran. Rather, it was that Deeds won Northern Virginia -- even the congressional district held by Moran's older brother. That's right, the only Democrat who didn't hail from Northern Virginia actually won the region. What this all means: Like in 2006, when Democratic primary voters took a chance on an under-funded Jim Webb (who didn't even have the money to air a TV ad in that Senate primary), these voters, especially in the vote-rich DC suburbs, tend to gravitate to the candidate they think is most electable. And since 2001, that usually means picking someone who has appeal to voters OUTSIDE of Northern Virginia. As Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Jim Webb, and Barack Obama have proved, a Democrat can always count on the votes from Northern Virginia. But to win statewide, you also need to perform well in other areas -- like Richmond, Hampton Roads, or Southwest Virginia. Deeds is from Bath County in western Virginia. His challenge, as one of us wrote last night, will be to excite African-American voters in Hampton Roads and Richmond, as well as raise enough money to stay competitive.

*** Deeds vs. McDonnell, Part 2: The general election between Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell will be a rematch of sorts. In the 2005 race for Virginia's attorney general, McDonnell beat Deeds by just 323 votes out of nearly 2 million votes cast. The McAuliffe camp argued that Deeds' loss in '05 proved that he couldn't beat McDonnell, even in an election when a Democrat (Tim Kaine) won the governor's race. But close followers of Virginia politics point out that Deeds was heavily outspent by McDonnell, which might not be the case this November. Still, Deeds starts out as the underdog -- once again. According to a DailyKos/Research 2000 poll released last week, McDonnell was ahead of Deeds by 12 points, 46%-34% (but expect Deeds to get a bounce and be tied or even slightly ahead by the end of the month). We'll get an idea of what kind of campaign operations McDonnell and Deeds have in the next 30 days. The first month of this general election may be more important than folks realize; it's when the tone is set, and when you find out just how prepared the nominees are for the big time once October rolls around. Deeds is probably broke, and we'll see if McDonnell tries to take advantage of that.

*** Nationalize this -- or not? As political reporters, our first instinct is to always nationalize downballot races. And that will certainly happen now that this year's two gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia are set. You'll hear plenty of us ask: "What will these contests say about Obama and 2010 and 2012?" Or: "Are we headed for a repeat of 1993, when GOP gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia foreshadowed the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994?" But an honest question: What will these contests really say about Obama, when his approval rating right now is around 60%, but Republican candidates are already leading in New Jersey and Virginia? Unlike Senate races, gubernatorial contests are more often about local issues. After all, Jon Corzine (D) finds himself in trouble in New Jersey not because of anything national Democrats have done, but rather because of high state property taxes. Nevertheless, these two races will provide us with plenty of national issues. In Virginia, we'll probably see a fight over the stimulus (Deeds supports it and McDonnell doesn't). And in New Jersey, Corzine is already trying to link Chris Christie to George Bush and Dick Cheney. By the way (and you'll never get them to admit it on the record), the White House probably has to be glad that Deeds won last night. Why? Because the race is just across the river, McAuliffe would have been an outsized presence, and national reporters would spend more time covering the race. With Deeds and McDonnell, it'll be a much quieter summer. Finally, imagine the awkward Bill Clinton phone calls to Rahm asking for the president's help on behalf of McAuliffe. All that goes away now….

*** What about Terry? Speaking of McAuliffe, perhaps his biggest problem in this race was that he never seemed like a Virginian. Don't get us wrong, many of the past statewide winners in Virginia -- Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, George Allen -- didn't originally hail from the state. But in one way or another, they eventually sounded and acted like Virginians. McAuliffe? Not so much. Many outsider watchers of this race don't understand why McAuliffe and his upstate New York accent were featured so prominently. What does Terry do now? Does he stick with this, help raise millions of dollars for Deeds, and set himself up for a future run? Or does his abandon running for office altogether? In his remarks last year, McAuliffe sure sounded like someone who isn't giving up politics just yet. "I will do everything possible to help make sure [Deeds] is the next Governor of Virginia," he said. "Virginia needs Creigh Deeds."

*** The first rule of being DGA/DCCC/DSCC chairman -- if you endorse, you better make sure your guy wins: Here's another question we have: What the heck was Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the current head of the Democratic Governors Association, thinking when he endorsed McAuliffe last week, especially as polls were beginning to show a Deeds surge? Schweitzer last night released a statement congratulating Deeds that said this: "Creigh is the natural choice to continue the legacy of Governors Warner and Kaine." But people are obviously going to ask: How is Deeds the natural choice when Schweitzer originally endorsed McAuliffe? One can't help but wonder: What did McAuliffe promise Schweitzer? Is this about Schweitzer's own national ambitions?

*** 300,000: By the way, turnout last night (more than 300,000) was higher than some predicted. In the 2006 Webb-Miller Senate primary, a little more than 150,000 voters turned out. But early on, McAuliffe had bragged that the primary would attract 400,000 voters. That didn't happen. But Democrats should be relieved that $20 million in combined spending by the three candidates attracted the highest turnout for any state Dem primary (if you don't count the presidential). Also, don't overlook the importance of the Washington Post endorsement. Many McAuliffe folks believe the endorsement, coupled with favorable coverage (and daily re-endorsements by the editorial page) is what did them in. Who says newspapers are dead? Then again, it was simply with a small circle of elites, called Beltway primary voters.

*** Health care politics: Turning to non-Virginia news, President Obama is mostly down today (not a single PLANNED public event) -- he meets with Treasury Secretary Geithner, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton, and all of these meetings are closed to the press. But his schedule picks up tomorrow, when he travels to Wisconsin to talk about health care. And regarding health care, Ted Kennedy released his bill yesterday. Per the LA Times, it would "require all Americans to get medical insurance, establish complex new insurance exchanges to facilitate near-universal coverage, and dramatically step up government oversight of the insurance industry. Among other things, private insurers would be required to cover people with preexisting conditions, co-payments for preventive care would be limited, and doctors and hospitals that provided high-quality care would be rewarded." Also, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is supposed to unveil his bill next week. But don't expect any health-care plan to be identified with anyone other than the president. The one thing the White House doesn't want is this bill to be identified with any one person in Congress.

Video: Face off: Health care reform has become President Barack Obama's top priority, yet no one has figured out how to pay for it. A political panel debates how to decrease the estimated one trillion dollar price tag associated with Obama's plan.

***Politics across the pond: Finally, the president's pollster, Joel Benenson, and his firm Benenson Strategy Group (partner Pete Brodnitz), now can count themselves as chief pollsters and political advisers to multiple world leaders. Benenson and Brodnitz now have the tough job of rehabilitating British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Interestingly, Benenson and Brodnitz were chosen over Mark Penn, who has been an on-again, off-again, consultant to the British Labo(u)r Party for years, well since the time that Penn had a client in the White House. So Obama tops Clinton again?

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 146 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 510 days

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