- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Virginians energized by President Obama to go to the polls last year are less likely to be inspired by Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds.

He’ll be the first to admit it.

“I’m not Barack Obama. It’s just impossible for me to capture all that magic. I’m a different sort of guy,” Mr. Deeds told The Washington Times in an interview Saturday on the campaign trail. “I’ve obviously worked hard to capture as much of it as I can,” he said.

He’s hardly the first candidate seeking to be elected on the coattails of a leader who captured the national imagination.

In Virginia, the deck appears stacked against such efforts. The state has elected a governor from the opposite party of the sitting president in every election since 1973.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the ballooning federal deficit or the mixed reaction to Mr. Obama’s plan to reform health care could cost Mr. Deeds votes.

Mr. Deeds is well aware of the state’s voting history - and the fact that Virginia voters could vent on him their early frustration with the president.

“That’s because when presidents take office, they’re trying to do new things. They’re going to upset some people,” Mr. Deeds said. “The challenge is to tap into the reservoir of good will developed by Barack Obama, but also to have a vision that is for Virginia.”

To tap the good will, Mr. Deeds said the campaign is negotiating more visits from Mr. Obama and possibly one from first lady Michelle Obama. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is scheduled to campaign for him at least once more.

But the “presidential jinx” has affected Virginia gubernatorial candidates even when the president is popular, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Ronald Reagan’s popularity did not lead Republicans J. Marshall Coleman and Wyatt B. Durrette Jr. to victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial elections of 1981 and 1985.

George W. Bush’s popularity soared in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but that did not translate to a win for Republican Mark Earley over Mark R. Warner, a Democrat who took 52.2 percent of the vote.

“Sometimes, presidents hurt; sometimes, they help,” Mr. Sabato said. “Even presidents who are somewhat popular can hurt.”

On his Web site, www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/, Mr. Sabato compiled information showing that at the time of seven of the last nine Virginia gubernatorial elections, the president had a percentage of popular support between the mid-50s and the 80s.

While a popular president may not help a Virginia candidate, Mr. Sabato said the data suggests a president with low approval ratings can seriously handicap his party’s candidate.

In the past months, poll numbers for Mr. Obama - the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 - have fallen below 50 percent.

In the most recent Rasmussen Reports poll, released Sept. 17, Mr. Obama polled at 49 percent in Virginia - the same percentage he received Monday in the firm’s survey of the nation.

But Mr. Deeds is confident that the hope Mr. Obama brought to Virginia during his campaign still resonates with voters.

President Obama, he said, offered optimism and leadership at a time when Virginians were frightened by an economy that was “almost in free fall.”

“He said, ‘I’m going to tackle some serious challenges. I’m going to take on some serious work.’ He was a great messenger,” Mr. Deeds said of Mr. Obama. “You know, Napoleon said, ‘A leader is a dealer in hope.’ I think Obama epitomizes that to a large extent. He was able to be that dealer in hope that people invested in, invested their votes in last year.”

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