- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

Laying off staffers, trailing by double digits in the polls and barely able to keep pace with the massive fundraising efforts of his competitors, by early May the supposed “third choice” for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign seemed like an inspired boxer fighting beyond his class.

That was then.

Now, less than a week before Democratic voters choose their candidate for governor on June 9, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds is the front-runner, edging former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Delegate Brian J. Moran in the latest survey released by Public Policy Polling on Tuesday.

So did the late surge come as a surprise to the soft-spoken senator from Bath County?

“I strive for humility; I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness to be humble. Because of that, people sometimes underestimate me, and people underestimate me at their own peril,” Mr Deeds told The Washington Times.

Mr. Deeds has been making way with undecided voters, depicting himself as the “anti-establishment” candidate who likes to talk about himself more than he criticizes his opponents.

“Slow and steady may be what wins the race for him,” said Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University in Hampton Roads. “While Moran runs attack ads on McAuliffe in Fairfax, Deeds is stepping back and saying, ‘Let’s talk about me and what I can do,’ and that says something to voters.”

The recent surge has turned heads, considering Mr. Deeds was behind Mr. McAuliffe by 16 points in a May 5 poll. Mr. McAuliffe, who counts among his supporters Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, was at the time outspending his opponents by a margin of more than 3-to-1, raising more than $4 million compared with Mr. Deeds’ $700,000 in the first three months of this year.

Virginia law forbids officeholders from raising money for political campaigns during the legislative session, and unlike Mr. Moran or Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert F. McDonnell, Mr. Deeds did not resign from public office to campaign for governor.

To make ends meet, the Deeds campaign said on May 13 that it would be laying off paid staffers to fund television ads.

But in the past two weeks, Mr. Deeds, 51, has ridden a wave of voter recognition, sparked in part by a stream of endorsements. The Washington Post endorsed his candidacy on May 22, while the Bristol Herald Courier and the Martinsville Bulletin gave their support to Mr. Deeds on May 31.

“It calls people to notice. I know people are going to recognize me now, and so we’re going to continue to surge all the way until June 9th,” Mr. Deeds said.

Mr. Deeds raised almost $30,000 a day in the week after The Post endorsement, about three times more than what he was drawing per day in the two previous months, according to the latest campaign finance reports released Monday.

The strategy of speaking softly and directly may be paying off in other ways, especially as the other two Democrats in the race play politics. A recent TV ad released by Mr. Moran attacks Mr. McAuliffe for questionable business dealings, while Mr. McAuliffe has fired back with a spot that declares “false attacks won’t create jobs.”

“It definitely goes into Deeds’ favor. Moran and McAuliffe will battle each other, and in the end he may be the one who comes out on top,” said Bob Holsworth, a political scientist and founder of Virginia Tomorrow.

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