Anyone who knows Democratic Primaries in Virginia and where voters come from (geography, ideologically and their demographics) has known Creigh Deeds faced an uphill battle in his primary for Governor. Even when it was Deeds-Moran, the Brian Moran campaign always had the feel of having the upper-hand over Deeds despite his statewide campaign in 2005. With Terry McAuliffe in the race, Deeds is left with his old problems plus new ones of having an opponent who can compete with him in every part of Virginia.
Yet despite these challenges the Deeds campaign is hanging in there and seems to have an outside shot of winning on June 9th. The credit for this turn around seems to go to Joe Abbey, the Deeds Campaign Manager who started in December.
A number of things have happened since early December when Joe took over:
1) Creigh has moved his office from Richmond to Charlottesville.
This is a much bigger deal than it might seem. One of Creigh's biggest weaknesses for years was the amount he relied on thinking from insiders (i.e. lobbyists) in Richmond. These are the same people who advised him to run a Warner01 like campaign in 2005, causing him to finish as the lowest performing Democrat in all three major metropolitan areas in Virginia (NoVA, Hampton Roads and Richmond). Creigh also interviewed a few of these lobbyists to be his Campaign Manager this year.
Moving the office to Charlottesville helps shut out some of this insider noise from the campaign. But it also allows for a re-branding of Creigh- from a rural Bath County candidate to the State Senator from Charlottesville. There is a very significant side to this in Northern Virginia and other urban areas- most primary voters have an image in their head of counties in Virginia they have never heard of that doesn't exactly match their goals on where to move the state. Having a candidate from Charlottesville is a much easier leap for urban and suburban primary voters to get around.
2) Creigh has stopped trying to be the candidate for everyone
Another weakness of Creigh over the past few years is he is a genuinely nice guy. Sometimes, too nice. Creigh's campaign was mindlessly competing everywhere and seemed to have no targets on where he needed to do well. I'm seeing that begin to turn around- the campaign is the lightest staffed and they have started to skip events in areas they can't make a difference in. This focusing has allowed Creigh to actually compete in the events and areas he wants to because he is no longer spread as thin. A great example of this came in the last week. At the Alexandria Presidents Day Parade, Creigh had no staff and no visibility there. Creigh is going to finish 3rd place in Brian's hometown, I think that is the right call to skip a parade there. Meanwhile, at the Mt. Vernon straw poll this weekend, Creigh competed and took 2nd place- getting a big moral victory over Terry McAuliffe in Fairfax. Both decisions were the right ones strategically and advanced the campaign.
3) Creigh is staying focused on the session and not politics
This is a big one. I expected Creigh's decision to stay in Richmond for this session to be a disaster, his campaign was already seemed to have ADD and being the only candidate in session was going to make that even worse. As it turned out, I was totally wrong here. Creigh has managed to stay focused on what is going on in the session, has not been subject to a "youtube" disaster moment from the floor and is in the mix on a number of good progressive bills moving through the General Assembly this year. The decision to "stay and fight" in the session has given Creigh some extra gravitas and finally got his campaign a consistent message.
I still don't know if the numbers are there to win- but this has been an excellent turnaround for the campaign, and if this momentum keeps up, I think Creigh actually has a real chance to win this primary on June 9th.