- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds scored a remarkable come-from-behind victory Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, handing a stinging defeat to former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and the once-mighty Clinton political machine that backed him.

Mr. Deeds, outspent heavily and trailing in third place in polls just a few weeks ago, won the right to face Republican former state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell in a fall election that will be closely watched nationwide as a bellwether for the 2010 fortunes of both parties.

The race is a rematch of a 2005 contest in which Mr. McDonnell narrowly beat the Democrat for state attorney general.

“No one could have imagined what we accomplished,” Mr. Deeds told a crowd of ecstatic supporters at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel after news of his primary victory.

He also referred to the severe weather many voters faced Tuesday as they hoped to head to the polls: “I mean think of this - all the rain, all the hail, all the wind - that didn’t stop you from coming out to vote for me.”

Voter turnout was light across the state as Democrats chose their slate of fall candidates, hoping not only to retain the governor’s mansion they have held for eight years under Mark Warner and Tim Kaine but also wrest Republican control of the House of Delegates.

Mr. McAuliffe, once the most prolific fundraiser on the national Democratic scene, summoned his friend and former boss Bill Clinton to campaign alongside him. But he lost a once substantial lead in the polls during a race that inflicted heavy TV advertising on voters and saw significant amounts of out-of-state money flow to the Democratic Party operative.

In a sign that Mr. McAuliffe’s well-organized campaign may have worked against him, Northern Virginia voter Stanley Blouin, 79, said he voted for Mr. Deeds instead of Mr. McAuliffe.

“I was going to vote for McAuliffe, but I just got the impression after being called two or three times a day by ‘friends of Terry,’ and I began to feel that maybe he was trying to buy the election and that annoyed me,” he told The Washington Times at the precinct polling station at Haycock Elementary School in Falls Church.

With 99.8 percent of 2,504 precincts reporting at about 10:30 p.m., Mr. Deeds had won 50 percent of the vote. Mr. McAuliffe - who served as chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failed presidential bid last year and raised nearly $7 million for his own election - had earned 26 percent, while former state Delegate Brian J. Moran earned 24 percent.

Mr. Deeds, who represents the Shenandoah Valley’s Bath County in the state Senate, defeated his Northern Virginia competitors even in Arlington County, where Mr. Moran worked as a prosecutor, and held a substantial lead in Fairfax County, where Mr. McAuliffe lives, with nearly all precincts reporting.

McAuliffe spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith said Mr. McAuliffe called Mr. Deeds to concede at 8:06 p.m., just an hour after the polls closed.

In remarks to supporters Tuesday night at a hotel in north Arlington, Mr. McAuliffe said his campaign “sure has been quite the ride” and pledged his support for Mr. Deeds. He also launched into an attack on Mr. McDonnell, invoking the man who broke the Republicans’ four-decade lock on Virginia in presidential races.

“Barack Obama needs a partner in Richmond. Bob McDonnell will not be that partner, Creigh Deeds will be that partner,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Mr. Moran also conceded to Mr. Deeds shortly after 8 p.m.

“I woke up this morning to the sounds of thunder,” Mr. Moran proclaimed before a crowded ballroom of supporters gathered at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria. “We’re going to go to bed tonight to the sounds of thunder of the Democratic Party, and we’re going to win in November and put a Democrat in the governor’s office.”

Virginia’s general election features one of two gubernatorial races in the country this year and already has drawn national interest from both parties: Republicans are looking for a resurgence after Mr. Obama’s victory in Virginia last year and a string of defeats in gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections, while Democrats hope to cement their control of commonwealth politics.

“There is a stark choice,” Mr. Deeds said to his supporters. “We can move forward in the tradition of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, or we can move backwards with the disastrous economic and social policies of Bob McDonnell and George W. Bush.”

“I’m a Presbyterian. I believe things happen for a reason,” Mr. Deeds said.

Minutes after Mr. Deeds’ victory was announced, the Republican Governors Association issued a release accusing Mr. Deeds of supporting tax increases, while the research arm of the Republican National Committee later launched a similar e-mail attack.

Mr. McDonnell, meanwhile, released a video statement congratulating Mr. Deeds and saying he is looking forward to the campaign ahead.

“And Creigh, after your victory, I’d say ‘Take a break, you deserve it - long vacation, relax for a few months, take some time off,’ ” the Republican joked.

With the National Weather Service warning of thunderstorms and flash floods for parts of Northern Virginia, primary voters battled morning and evening storms and turnout was low as expected through the afternoon, state elections officials said. Statewide, turnout plateaued at 2 percent to 4 percent, although numbers were higher in Northern Virginia.

By noon, 10 percent of voters had turned out in Arlington. Alexandria reported 6.3 percent turnout and Falls Church reported 7.4 percent. At Baileys Community Center in Falls Church on Tuesday evening, 305 people, or about 10 percent of registered voters in the precinct, had cast ballots.

The weather also had a likely hand in other problems. At least four polling stations experienced power outages during the day and, as voters prepared to head out to the polls Tuesday evening, the State Board of Elections was working to restore power to about a dozen locations. Workers were using generators and flashlights to continue voting relatively uninterrupted.

With primary elections historically drawing fewer voters than general contests, the threat of being pelted by rain at the polls didn’t bode well for turnout prospects. But to some, it didn’t matter.

“I don’t think the thunderstorms are going to stop the ones that plan on voting,” said Betty Weimer, general registrar for Prince William County, who estimated shortly after noon that precincts in her county had seen an expected low turnout of about 1 percent.

“If someone is undecided and when it’s time for them to vote and it’s pouring down rain, they may choose not to do so. Or they may just wait awhile.”

State Board of Elections Secretary Nancy Rodrigues said that as few as 3 percent of the state’s 5.8 million registered voters were expected to participate Tuesday. The state has an open primary, which means a voter can cast a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary, but not both.

At the Spring Hill Elementary School polling station in McLean, 20 residents had cast their votes in the hour after polls opened at 6 a.m., including Mr. McAuliffe and his eldest daughter, who voted for the first time.

The rain delayed Paul Honigberg, 53, but didn’t stop him from coming. When Mr. Honigberg saw the storm, he opted to have breakfast and wait out the weather. He said he always comes out to vote in elections.

“It’s the one chance we have to directly influence the process,” Mr. Honigberg said, adding that his choice was between Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran.

The Spring Hill Elementary School voting station in McLean had more than 50 people vote in the first two hours. The Ashton Heights precinct in Arlington County drew 621 voters throughout the day.

Meanwhile the precinct polling station at Haycock Elementary School in Falls Church had a line out the door at 8:30 a.m. and 69 people already had voted. An elections officer there said he was surprised by the turnout.

“I think we’re seeing really good turnout for a primary,” Herbert Beckner said. “We’re not disappointed in the turnout.”

McLean resident Michael Master voted for Mr. Moran for an unexpected reason.

“Because he’s the easiest guy to beat,” said Mr. Master, 61, who cast his vote at Cooper Middle School, where 131 people had voted by early afternoon. “If we’re going to save Virginia, it’s only the Republicans who can do it.”

A steady number of voters headed to Alexandria polling places at about 5 p.m. City resident George Kalen said he voted for Mr. Moran “because he’s a Fairfax guy.”

“I think he can relate to average Virginians, especially ones in the northern part of town,” said Mr. Kalen, 43.

Voters Tuesday also named former state Finance Secretary Jody M. Wagner to run for lieutenant governor in the fall. Mrs. Wagner defeated national security specialist and Democratic strategist A. Michael Signer with 74 percent of the vote and nearly all precincts reporting.

Mrs. Wagner now will face incumbent Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican.

Taking the House of Delegates also is seen as a crucial part of the Democratic strategy. Retaining control of the state House is important to Republicans, who lost control of the state’s U.S. Senate seats and have dealt with Democratic governors since Mr. Warner’s victory in 2001.

In contested primary races, Northern Virginia candidates were vying to represent the 35th, 38th, 47th and 52nd legislative districts.

The majority of those seats have long been in Democratic hands; however, two Democratic candidates were vying to replace former Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William, who is giving up the seat.

Pastor Luke E. Torian defeated Michael A. Hodge, a former Marine and Secret Service agent, with 68 percent of the vote and all 19 precincts reporting.

Four Democrats - lawyers Roy J. Baldwin, John F. Carroll and Mark L. Keam, along with Esam S. Omeish, a surgeon - were competing to replace Delegate Stephen C. Shannon in the 35th District, which encompasses parts of Fairfax County. Mr. Shannon is giving up his seat to run as the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Mr. Keam won the race handily with 55 percent of the vote and all precincts reporting.

In the 38th District, Democratic incumbent Delegate Robert D. Hull, who has spent 17 years in the House, appeared to be edged by challenger L. Kaye Kory, who has served on the Fairfax County School Board for 10 years.

With all precincts reporting, Mrs. Kory had won 51 percent of the vote to Mr. Hull’s 49 percent for a victory margin of 66 votes, according to unofficial results from the State Board of Elections.

Voters also had to decide who will replace retiring Democratic Delegate Albert C. Eisenberg, who has represented the 47th District since 2004. Patrick A. Hope defeated Alan E. Howze, Miles F. Grant, Adam J. Parkhomenko and Andres Tobar with 37 percent of the vote.

Gary Emerling and Kristi Jourdan contributed to this report.

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