- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

Less than a year after Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate in more than 40 years to win Virginia, R. Creigh Deeds rarely mentions the president while he campaigns for governor. Instead, he refers often to the commonwealth’s most popular politician, Sen. Mark Warner.

Mr. Obama’s job approval ratings have been hovering around 50 percent. His health care reform proposal has garnered mixed reviews. Mr. Warner, on the other hand, is Virginia’s most popular former governor in recent times, according to a poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, N.C.

“If you are Creigh Deeds and you want to communicate in shorthand where you will stand and what you are going to do as governor, you cite Mark Warner,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “It’s not that Obama is deeply unpopular in Virginia, it is just that he doesn’t offer any rhetorical boost to Deeds in speaking to the general electorate.”

On Monday, Mr. Warner campaigned for Mr. Deeds in Shirlington along with Rep. James P. Moran, several members of the General Assembly and former Delegate Brian J. Moran, whom Mr. Deeds defeated in the Democratic primary for governor.

The senator was clearly the headliner.

“As my friend Mark Warner, our great governor and leader, pointed out, we are the best managed state in the country,” Mr. Deeds said after Mr. Warner introduced him.

Mr. Deeds went on to credit Mr. Warner with the state’s fiscal health, including the 2004 budget that helped Virginia move out of insolvency to financial stability, saving the state’s AAA bond rating and putting it in a better situation to deal with the recession.

“The reason we are not California is because of leadership like Mark Warner’s,” Mr. Deeds said, promising the assembled crowd that he would follow in that tradition.

Mr. Warner holds a law degree from Harvard University and amassed a personal fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars as a venture capitalist and entrepreneur in the telecommunications and technology sectors.

He left office in 2006 with a nearly 80 percent approval rating, remaining popular despite pushing a $1.38 billion tax package through Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2004.

In Mr. Deeds’ latest television advertisement, Mr. Warner presents much the same message as he delivered to supporters in Shirlington.

“Do we move Virginia forward by continuing the pro-business economic policies that I helped put in place,” he says into the camera, “or do we go backwards with the failed economic approach that ruined our economy?”

Asked about his increasing visibility on behalf of Mr. Deeds, Mr. Warner smiled and politely declined to comment.

“It’s not my job to be the pundit. It is my job to be here to support Creigh,” he said.

Deeds spokesman Mike Gehrke said it is only logical for the candidate to emphasize his relationship with Mr. Warner.

“His record is much more entwined with Mark Warner’s,” Mr. Gehrke said.

Mr. Obama campaigned in Northern Virginia in August on behalf of Mr. Deeds. The appearance came after the president twice visited Virginia to talk about health care and Mr. Deeds was not in attendance.

During his 24-minute address to about 1,000 Deeds supporters, Mr. Obama himself mentioned Mr. Warner seven times.

“Mark Warner came in at a time when the fashionable politics was the nasty kind of politics, the slash-and-burn politics, the arguing and arguing without ever getting anything done kind of politics,” Mr. Obama said. “And Mark Warner said, ‘You know what, we can try something different.’ ”

While Mr. Deeds does not bring up the president’s name as often as he does Mr. Warner’s, he does speak of the president when asked.

“I’m proud to have the president’s support. I’m proud to have campaigned with him,” he said during a debate last month.

Gov. Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the Richmond Times Dispatch on Wednesday that he expected Mr. Obama to return to Virginia on Mr. Deeds’ behalf, but a date has not been set.

Mr. Deeds said he would welcome Mr. Obama campaigning at his side.

He told The Washington Times that his campaign is trying to negotiate more visits from the president and one from the first lady. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is scheduled to appear with Mr. Deeds on Thursday.

“We’re happy with the commitment coming from the White House, the DNC, the president,” Mr. Gehrke said.

However, Mr. Deeds clearly sees the need to put a little distance between himself and the president.

During the debate last month, when asked whether he identified himself as an Obama Democrat, Mr. Deeds instead insisted he was a “Creigh Deeds Democrat.”

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