This is one Mr. Deeds who apparently isn’t going to town. The collapse of the Democratic campaign for governor of Virginia speaks volumes - chapters, anyway - about what the body politic is trying to tell Barack Obama’s Democrats.
They’re learning, painfully, that campaigning without George W. Bush is baffling, frustrating and scary. Worse, it offers a preview of what the congressional campaigning will be like next year. One Obama doorbell ringer, working neighborhoods in Northern Virginia for Creigh Deeds, says even the promise of free pizza can’t lure faithful Democrats to a rally.
For weeks, The Washington Post, the house organ of the national Democratic Party, pounded away at Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee, for having written politically incorrect term papers in graduate school, citing his master’s thesis, which decried abortion, gender-bending and radical feminism, as proof that he doesn’t like women very much.
Only a month ago, Mr. Deeds, the Post’s horse in the race, wouldn’t talk about anything but the McDonnell graduate-school thesis - maybe a boon to master’s and doctoral candidates who can’t get anybody but a professor to read their wit and wisdom, but, as it turns out, a bore to voters in Virginia. The public-opinion polls continue to show Mr. McDonnell ahead, despite all the Post’s ineffective deeds, and with a lengthening lead.
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Now Mr. Deeds doesn’t want to talk about graduate-school scribbling at all, just as leaks from the Post newsroom reveal that the newspaper has a seven-part series ready for publication to prove that Bob McDonnell has had a lifelong hostility to those of the pink persuasion. He once pulled the pigtails of a little girl in the second grade, and as a third-grader he bounced a spitball, aimed at a male pal, off the shoulder of a girl two rows over. These are no doubt serious charges, violence against (tiny) women, sexual harassment and all that, but not likely to turn the tide of a runaway that is building in Virginia.
Suddenly, the White House is treating the bereft Mr. Deeds as if he’s on the fourth day of a three-day underarm deodorant pad. Bill Clinton, accustomed to speaking to cheering thousands at a hundred grand a pop, was dispatched the other night to a Deeds rally to set the throng on fire with one of his late-October stumpwallopers. The rally, such as it was, was held not at an arena or a hotel - not even a Motel 6 - but in a campaign office in the Washington suburbs. The “throng” was counted in the dozens, about the size of a PTA meeting. Not even Bubba could dispel the gloom of a wake.
“These polls are either accurate, or they’re not,” he said, delivering an insight worthy of a Harvard political science professor. “So are the polls right? The answer is yes, no, and maybe.” But what else could he say? Dispatched for mortuary duty, Bubba could only sympathize with the preacher called on to say something nice over the grave of the town bootlegger.
Barack Obama himself is offering the mere minimum of presidential support over the past seven days of the campaign, just mailing it in (even if delivering the mail in person). He’ll make one last appearance with Mr. Deeds this week in Tidewater. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the president’s political aides continue to dish the obsequies over a doomed candidate while pretending to pray for a miracle. So far no one has invoked Harry Truman, patron saint of doomed candidates, but there’s still a week to go.
Mr. Deeds’ friends are bitter about the anonymous voices peddling the discouraging word from the White House. “These ‘anonymous voices’ have decided those hard-working [down-ballot candidates] are just collateral damage in their effort to tell the world that if [Mr.] Deeds doesn’t win, it is because he ignored advice,” Paul Goldman, a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, tells Politico, the Washington politics daily. “This isn’t change we can believe in, but the same old, same old we voted out of office. Do they really believe their attempts to shield the president from blame is going to distract [Mr.] Obama’s critics, much less change the arc of today’s politics?”
Of course it won’t, and that’s what makes the Virginia race so scary for the president’s men. Voters will use whatever club is available to “send a message,” and sometimes, as any number of pols could tell you, the club is big, rough and means business.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.