The times they are a-changin’

(with apologies to Bob Dylan)

I spent a lot of years in Virginia as those of you who follow my blog may remember and I still try to follow the politics there as best I can from a distance.  This morning I ran across an interesting story in today’s Washington Post about Creigh Deeds.  So I went to the local Richmond paper and could find nothing to confirm the Post story, but did find some new poll numbers which may help explain the new Deeds tactic.

In an August 5th story, my old friend Jeff Schapiro wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch

For the second time in as many weeks, a published poll is showing Republican Bob McDonnell with a double-digit lead for governor over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

Public Policy Polling yesterday put McDonnell ahead of Deeds, 51 percent to 37 percent. Four weeks ago, the Raleigh, N.C.-based survey group reported McDonnell leading Deeds, 49 percent to 43 percent.

The poll suggests that McDonnell, a former state attorney general, is getting a lift from pushback among Virginians to President Barack Obama. Though he carried the state last year, his popularity is falling, apparently because of skittishness over the economy.

Jeff goes on to quote another old friends (and dissertation advisor), Bob Holsworth

Regardless, the new poll could stir concerns among Democrats — even in the depths of summer, when many voters aren’t focusing on politics — that Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, is in trouble, said analyst Robert D. Holsworth.

“At the moment, Republicans are far more enthusiastic about this elections than Democrats,” Holsworth wrote yesterday on his blog, VirginiaTomorrow. com.

“I still think there is plenty of time for the Dems to recover. But pulling the covers over your head and pretending that it’s still yesterday rarely works. The Democrats will have to recognize that the climate this year is vastly different than 2001, 2005 and even 2008.”

There are issues with the way the polls were conducted using the telephone push one if you are for McDonnell, two for Deeds method, but putting that aside it is what Creigh Deeds is doing to catch up that is most interesting.  According to the Post

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds will launch a campaign this week to portray his opponent’s longtime efforts to restrict abortion as out of the mainstream, a potentially risky strategy for a Democrat in the once solidly conservative state.

Deeds (Bath), a state senator who supports abortion rights, said he will join female supporters in Annandale on Monday for the first of three events across the state where he will argue that Republican Robert F. McDonnell devoted too much of his 17 years in public office working to limit access to abortions. McDonnell has said he is against abortion in every instance, including rape and incest, except when the life of the mother is in danger.

There was a time when the politcally correct thing to say about abortion rights if you were a Virginia Democrat was that abortion was legal and the decision was a personal one to be made between the woman, her family and her doctor.

The early statewide pitch by Deeds is a bold gamble that the demographics and politics of Virginia have shifted so quickly and decisively that raising a divisive issue such as abortion, which Republicans attempted to use to their advantage for much of this decade, is now favorable to Democrats. Although advocates on both sides of the issue rank Virginia as one of the more restrictive states on abortion, a Washington Post poll in September found that 60 percent of Virginia voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a number that has not changed significantly in recent years.

Deeds’s strategy is a departure from the approach that worked for the state’s past two Democratic governors, who generally played down touchy social issues and focused instead on the issues they said voters cared about more: traffic, schools and other quality-of-life issues.

Deeds said it’s important for voters to be aware of McDonnell’s deep commitment to antiabortion causes. As an example, he pointed to a speech McDonnell delivered to the National Right to Life Committee in Arlington County last year, in which the then-attorney general saluted “all you pro-life warriors for Virginia for all you’ve done to turn Virginia around and make it a pro-life state.”

I hope this works to motivate Democrats and women to vote.  As Bob Holsworth says there is plenty of time.  The economy is turning around and this gamble may do the trick for Deeds.

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