The First Draft: Reading tea leaves in Virginia

June 9, 2009

USA-POLITICS/The year after a presidential election, there’s typically few electoral contests on the calendar as politicians focus on getting some work done so they’ll have something to brag about to voters during the next election.

The few races that do occur tend to be heavily scrutinized as pundits look for something to chew over in the slow period before next year’s congressional midterms.

Today, Democrats in Virginia go to the polls to pick a candidate for the governor’s mansion, as incumbent Tim Kaine is constitutionally limited to one term. On the Republican side, Robert McDonnell faces no opposition for his party’s nomination.

Virginia, formerly solid red, is now a swing state that has elected successive Democratic governors and backed Democrat Barack Obama in last year’s presidential race.

All eyes are on Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who headed Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid last year.

McAuliffe has deep pockets and a high national profile and has emphasized economic issues. But he has not played a role in state politics before, and his ties to Clinton could actually be a detriment — Obama beat her in the state’s bruising February 2009 presidential primary.

The other two candidates are less known nationally but have deeper roots in the state.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds, from the Shenandoah Valley, hopes to appeal to rural voters with a moderate record and a pro-gun stance.

Former state delegate Brian Moran, who hails from Alexandria, has run as a liberal who backs gay rights and opposes a new coal power plant.

Polls are inconclusive and turnout is expected to be light, so those pundits should probably not read too much into the result.

Voting ends at 7 p.m.

photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie (McAuliffe at the 2008 Democratic convenion in Denver)

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