- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

The dark horse candidate for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race may be making his move, according to new poll numbers released Friday.

State Senator R. Creigh Deeds was the only one of three candidates vying for the party’s nomination to show a jump in the latest poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling. The survey shows support for Mr. Deeds at 20 percent - up 6 percent from a similar poll taken two weeks ago.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe continues to lead the race with 29 percent support - one point down from the previous poll. Former Delegate Brian J. Moran remained at 20 percent support, with undecided voters making up 31 percent.

The poll of 617 likely Democratic voters had a margin of error of 3.9 percent. It was conducted from May 19 to May 21.

Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said the numbers show the race has a long way to go until the primary on June 9.

“I don’t think it’s anywhere close to being decided,” he said. “There are more blows to be had from here on out.”

Despite Mr. Deeds’ jump, Mr. Debnam said the poll indicated the senator from Bath County has had trouble attracting support from the voter-rich D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia, where Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Moran call home.

For example, in the 703 area code of Northern Virginia, Mr. Deeds earned 11 percent support compared with Mr. Moran’s 40 percent and Mr. McAuliffe’s 27 percent.

That may change after The Washington Post on Friday endorsed Mr. Deeds, citing his 18-year record in the General Assembly and his history of making courageous votes in the interest of the state.

“He has demonstrated an understanding of the problems that matter most, the commitment to solve them and the capacity to get things done,” the editorial said. “Mr. Deeds may not be the obvious choice in the June 9 primary, but he’s the right one.”

Brooke Borkenhagen, a spokeswoman for Mr. Deeds, said Friday that the jump in the poll numbers came after the campaign aired television ads that talked about Mr. Deeds’ plans to rebuild the economy.

She said the endorsement adds to the momentum.

“It solidified our argument that he’s the most qualified Democrat to lead Virginia,” she said.

But Mr. Deeds still must overcome a significant fundraising edge held by the other two candidates if he hopes to win the nomination and challenge the Republican candidate, former state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell.

The most recent campaign finance reports, released last month, show that Mr. McAuliffe during the first three months of the year raised $4.2 million while Mr. Moran raised $800,000.

Mr. Deeds, who as a sitting state senator was barred from accepting donations during the 46-day session that ended Feb. 28, raised $700,000.

Among his advantages, the poll released Friday showed that Mr. Deeds has the lowest unfavorability rating of the three candidates in the race, at 16 percent. Mr. Moran has a 20 percent unfavorable rating while 36 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Mr. McAuliffe.

The poll also said 42 percent of voters have yet to make up their minds about the race. Mr. Debnam said the numbers point to one conclusion: “No one has a lock on it yet.”

“The race isn’t decided at all,” he said. “It’s about who executes the best from this point on.”

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