- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

Shhhhhh. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is campaigning to put R. Creigh Deeds into the Virginia governor’s mansion, but he doesn’t want anyone to know.

Or so it seems. On Thursday, the vice president dropped into a posh Alexandria neighborhood to hobnob with 75 high-rolling Democratic donors, but the Office of the Vice President (OVP) restricted press access and wouldn’t give out the address of the ritzy fundraiser.

“You’ll get a print report as soon as we can get it out. No other reporters are allowed to attend this event,” Annie Tomasini, OVP deputy press secretary, said when asked for access. The vice president’s travel pool was limited to one print reporter, and no TV cameras were allowed to tag along (Mr. Biden’s communications director, Jay Carney, says that’s standard operating procedure for fundraisers at private homes).

As for the OVP’s failure to provide an address, Miss Tomasini blamed “schedulers” for not getting back to her. And no transcript of Mr. Biden’s comments was released by the OVP.

Of course, it’s not the first time a White House and candidate have danced around the political calculus of interacting. In 2008, Republican candidates liked the cash draw of then-President George W. Bush, but few wanted to be photographed with the beleaguered president publicly and opted for private functions. Vice President Al Gore snubbed President Bill Clinton’s offer to campaign for him in 2000.

But in an odd twist, some say it’s the administration that prefers a little distance - and few photos. While Democrat Deeds closed a double-digit gap last month, new polls show Robert F. McDonnell with a healthy - and growing - lead. Survey USA puts the Republican up by 11 points; Rasmussen shows a nine-point lead.

Perhaps it’s the Chicago Syndrome. President Obama pressed hard for the International Olympic Committee to choose his adopted home city, but when the IOC picked Rio de Janeiro, every story mentioned his failed effort.

Either way, Thursday’s event was an understated, even subdued, affair. The Alexandria neighborhood of massive homes was all but deserted. The smell of fresh mulch filled the air, mingling with lavender from one highly manicured garden. A lone man walked his pudgy golden retriever.

Hosting the fundraiser was Rafat “Ray” Mahmood, a Pakistani emigre known for throwing lavish parties for Democrats (but sometimes in losing efforts - he backed Mr. Gore in 2000, who also dropped by, and this year supported Brian Moran, who lost in the Democratic primary).

Secret Service agents shut down the cul de sac leading to the Mahmood mansion, which backs up to the Potomac River, an hour before the vice president’s arrival. One woman, stopped by an agent, was none too pleased: “I live here!” she said before being allowed to proceed.

Peter Christensen, a wealthy retired investor who appeared to be the only resident on the street home at midday, also wasn’t happy. “I’m not crazy about them invading the neighborhood, no,” he said.

Mercedes and Jaguars and Porsches were already parked within and around the Mahmood compound when Rep. James P. Moran arrived, driving a black SUV. Asked why the event was open only to select press, he said through the open window: “I have no idea. It’s the first I’ve heard that it is,” before driving off.

Shortly before the vice president’s motorcade arrived, a smiling Secret Service agent demanded that the reporter move to another spot. “I wish that everybody could stand where they want, but …” he said, trailing off.

Supporters who paid $1,000 for a “general reception” and $2,400 for a “special host reception” noshed on chicken tikka, beef kebab, spinach, yogurt with eggplant and rice, the pool reporter wrote. Dessert included French pastries, baklava and gulab jamun, or dough balls soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds.

Outside, neighbor Jack Neylan picked up his dog’s poop from a manicured lawn. “See that house next door to the Mamoods? That’s George Allen’s house. Ironic, isn’t it?” Yes, that George Allen, who, while running as the Republican for the Senate in 2006, called a “tracker” working for the opposing Jim Webb campaign a “macaca” - which some say is a racial pejorative to refer to someone from or with ancestry of India or Pakistan.

Predictably, the Allen lawn sported a “McDonnell” sign. While Mr. Christensen said the Mamoods often allow the Allens to use their tennis court, Mr. Neylan said, “They probably don’t have a lot to talk about over the fence.”

Back inside, Mr. Biden was doing his down-home Scranton schtick for Deeds fans. “You know, there’s real and there’s the other thing. The other thing sometimes wins. Real always wins,” the vice president said.

In a familiar refrain, he blamed the Bush administration for America’s woes. “Ladies and gentlemen, the state of Virginia and every other state in America inherited a god-awful situation as a consequence of eight years of absolutely failed, overwhelmingly failed economic and public policy,” he said.

Back outside, Mr. Christensen is still undecided on the race, with less than a month before Election Day.

Mr. Deeds? “He’s OK.” Mr. McDonnell? “I don’t know.

“They’re both just politicians. I’m not sure it matters all that much,” he said with a shrug.

Joseph Curl can be reached at [email protected] times.com.


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