In this corner, we have R. Creigh Deeds, the music-loving, hard-driving Democrat from Bath County; opposing him is Bob McDonnell, the suburban Republican with the anchorman looks and silver tongue. The last time these two met, in 2005's attorney-general battle, only 360 votes separated them, with McDonnell declared victor once the dust cleared. With the governor's mansion in the balance, the stakes are even higher this time.
The Consummate planner
Deeds draws on rural roots to gain footing
R. Creigh Deeds is at The Camel on West Broad Street to shake hands, but he's irresistibly drawn to the bandstand, where a group called Bush League is playing "Hey Joe."
Sensing a kindred spirit, the singer asks Deeds to "bring dancing back to Chesterfield," referring to the county's Footloose-lite boogie ban at restaurants without nightclub licenses, a crackdown that started in March. The Democratic candidate smiles and claps once in agreement and promises to invite the group to play a dance at the governor's mansion.
In contrast to his well-spoken suburban opponent, Republican Bob McDonnell, Deeds comes across as less rehearsed. He veers to over-emphatic gestures and occasional word stumbles during debates. Meanwhile, his rural background — he hunts deer and small game — and his Bath County lilt may distance him from many potential voters.
Over the band's blare, Deeds leans in and says, "There's only so much studying you can do. I'm not the smoothest speaker. I'm not the slickest guy. I can only be the person I am."
And that may be the key to beating McDonnell this time, and to maintaining Democrats' domination of statewide offices.
The 51-year-old Deeds appeared to be a long shot in the three-way Democratic primary, facing Terry McAuliffe's deep pockets and national connections and Brian Moran's strong Northern Virginia roots.
But the state senator and a small coterie of staffers in his Charlottesville headquarters put together a plan — keeping their candidate out of the fray while Moran and McAuliffe bashed each other with press releases. Meanwhile, Deeds campaigned quietly in what he calls a "guerrilla operation," waiting until close to the primary date to run TV ads.
Pam, his wife of 28 years, says her husband has always been a big planner — in college, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer and to one day enter politics (he was already student-body president). They even decided on their four children's names well in advance of their births.
But a little help never hurts; an endorsement from the Washington Post's editorial board in May helped swing undecided voters in Northern Virginia toward Deeds, and he won the primary with an astonishing 50 percent of the vote.
"If people are surprised, that's on them," Deeds says. "You don't run for governor unless you think you can win."
The wide margin, however, was a shock to him and to the staff. "It made a lot of people pay attention to us," he notes.
Within weeks, Deeds' staff ballooned from a core group of 18 workers on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall to 45 people in a corporate business park in Alexandria, many hired by campaign manager Joe Abbey. President Obama, Gov. Tim Kaine and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb offered their help, too.
The president and vice president have both made appearances on Deeds' behalf, but pundits say the candidate needs to be careful about how closely he associates himself with Obama, whose approval ratings have dipped in light of continued economic woes and disquiet over health-care reform.
"We're in unprecedented economic times," Deeds says. "They're not Barack Obama's fault. I'm confident he will help me in the long run."
Deeds ran his primary campaign on only $3.4 million, but in June, $1 million courtesy of the Democratic Governors Association and the national Democratic Party landed in his lap, with more likely to come. As of the last contributions report on June 30, Deeds had raised $6.2 million, with $2.7 million in the bank.
In June and July, Deeds did his fair share of sit-downs with potential donors; he says he's happy with the money already donated but adds, "I'm working on being happier."
In the back of everyone's mind is 2005, when Deeds lost the attorney general seat to McDonnell in the closest statewide race Virginia has ever seen. After a recount, a margin of just 360 votes out of 1.94 million separated the two men.
Deeds didn't know until late December whether he'd be going to the state Senate or the attorney general's office in 2006, but his wife says he didn't mope around the house.
He was busy with the recount and legislative business, and in the end, Pam Deeds says, "I think some good came out of it." He passed significant bills in the intervening four years — including increasing the mandatory retirement age for state judges and allowing Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents to access the national criminal database when examining licensing applicants — but "it wasn't pleasant being strung out," she says. "It made the winter a little long."
Deeds says he's driven to work harder to win this time. His campaign staff is well aware of the Republican's strengths: McDonnell is a formidable debater with good TV and stage presence, as well as proven fundraising ability, having out-raised Deeds in the 2005 race by almost a 2-to-1 ratio.
"He's a decent guy," Deeds adds. "He's devoted to his family." But the compliments end there. In the General Assembly, McDonnell "always stood in the way of progress," Deeds says, noting that the Republican voted three times during Warner's administration to reduce the Governor's Opportunity Fund. Now, McDonnell says he would expand the discretionary job-creation account if elected.
Man With a Plan
Creigh and Pam Deeds met at Concord College (now Concord University) in West Virginia when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore. He proposed marriage after three months of dating, and she piled on course work so they could graduate at the same time.
Deeds has four passions: the Cincinnati Reds, the Green Bay Packers, music and politics. Bring up any of those topics, and you'll be listening for a while, Pam notes. During an interview, he's playing Neil Young's On the Beach album. Asked about his first concert, Deeds says it was KISS, with opener Uriah Heep.
His family, which traces its roots in Bath County to 1740, has been Democratic for generations, Pam notes, and the Reds and Packers — seemingly incongruous teams for a Virginian to support — are also family traditions.
After graduating from Concord in 1980, the couple moved to Richmond for a year to work and save money so he could attend law school at Wake Forest University.
Pam has fond memories of their time here. Often, she recalls, they would eat lunch on the Capitol grounds, discussing their future together. After their $35 wedding at Millboro's Windy Cove Presbyterian Church in February 1981 (she wore a navy-blue dress, and only immediate family attended), they lived in an apartment in Westover Hills.
On the campaign trail, Deeds sometimes talks about how his mother gave him four $20 bills when he went off to college. On the surface, it sounds like John Edwards' "son of a mill worker" line. But Pam says that his modest, rural background, in combination with his decision to be a small-town lawyer for much of his career, sets her husband apart from other political candidates.
"We're not wealthy people," she says, adding that some politicians "have never had to hold down a job."
Although her husband has worked as a lawyer since graduating from Wake Forest in 1984, Pam has held a wide variety of jobs during their marriage, including grounds maintenance at Maymont, teaching preschool, retail work, assisting a veterinarian and counseling battered women. She now takes unemployment claims for the Virginia Employment Commission.
The couple moved back to Bath in 1985, a few weeks after the birth of their eldest daughter, Amanda, and in 1987, Deeds was elected county commonwealth's attorney. It was a tough campaign; people tried to dissuade him from running at the young age of 29, and then there were the physical perils of door-to-door campaigning, Pam recalls. "He just got eaten up by dogs. He'd come home with holes in his pants." But he figured out a plan: taking dog biscuits and then throwing them as far as he could, forcing the canines to run away.
In 1991, Deeds ran for the House of Delegates, defeating incumbent Emmett Hanger (who now serves with Deeds in the state Senate). One of the lasting legacies from Deeds' House tenure is his introduction of Megan's Law, which made the state police sex-offender registry available to the public. In 2001, he won his state Senate seat after the death of Emily Couric.
The Deeds family lives in a century-old farmhouse in Clifton Forge, not far from Douthat State Park. Pam and Creigh have three daughters and one son, ranging in age from 17 to 24. They regularly attend Millboro Presbyterian Church, although all the children were baptized at Windy Cove, where Pam and Creigh were married.
Campaigning means Deeds doesn't get home very often — an occasional weekend here and there, and those visits will decrease as Election Day approaches.
Amanda works for the campaign, and Gus may take the fall semester off from college to travel with his dad.
The Deedses are clear-eyed about the toll of politics; they rarely discuss work at home, Pam says, and during the 2005 race, she temporarily stopped the newspaper and disconnected the cable because of all the negative chatter
So far, she hasn't had to take any anti-media measures during this campaign but promises, "I'll cut the TV off if it gets dirty, and I expect it to."
The Deeds campaign is hoping to capitalize on the candidate's rural background in what could be a chancy strategy. Certainly, Northern Virginia — a must-win for any statewide candidate — will receive its fair share of courting, as will emerging suburbs.
But the campaign is also lavishing attention on what they call "Deeds Country," the ninth, sixth and fifth congressional districts, which include Winchester, Danville and Charlottesville.
Abbey says the campaign hopes to yield 25 percent of its votes in this lightly populated, conservative-leaning region, and in early August, Deeds launched a whistle-stop tour from Charlottesville, heading south and west.
This plan will be considered brilliant if Deeds wins, but it's also a risk, taking him away from vote-rich localities like Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond and Prince William County, where Kaine gained more votes than Deeds did in 2005. A second test facing him is to get Virginia's half-million new Obama voters to return to the polls in November.
It means hard work and 20-hour days. "I'm gonna win," he says, pausing outside The Camel, bound for another fundraiser. "Politics is very simple. You plan your work, and you work your plan."
The Textbook Candidate
McDonnell uses face-to-face strategy to send his message
Bob McDonnell is a welcome sight to most customers at the McLean Family Restaurant, a throwback lunch spot a couple of miles from Tysons Corner. The Republican gubernatorial candidate is shaking hands at each table, repeating to many how he "married a McLean girl" and grew up in Fairfax County.
He's hanging with white-haired U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, whom everyone seems to recognize, both engaging in a little "retail politics" in the affluent Northern Virginia suburb. A waitress snaps pictures with a cell phone, and Inday Albir, a Fairfax GOP worker who's met McDonnell before, gives him a hug.
"I just love him," she says. "He's the right person for the job." In the doorway of the restaurant, the candidate introduces himself to an older woman while simultaneously sliding out the door: "Ma'am, Bob McDonnell, clogging your way."
Wolf does reconnaissance in the parking lot, calling McDonnell over to meet more potential voters.
But this is Northern Virginia, so not everyone who meets McDonnell this July afternoon is a Republican. An older man in the produce section of the nearby grocery store says he votes blue, and two women at the restaurant call themselves "big Democrats" but add, "we're friendly."
Outside an office building, a 40-ish woman declares herself pro-choice; she's one of the few today who will voice a differing opinion to the candidate's face. McDonnell says he respectfully disagrees and spends a couple of minutes in conversation, telling the woman, "I'll bet if we'd sit down for an hour, we'd find something to agree on." He shakes her hand and asks her to consider voting for him.
People can change their views, he knows; witness his own family's evolution from Kennedy Democrats to Republicans in the span of 50 years.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have three daughters and twin sons, all of whom have been featured in his campaign's TV ads. The girls are all out of the house, either in college or in the workforce; the boys are students at Deep Run High School in Henrico County, and the family attends St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen. They live in the Wyndham neighborhood, 10 houses down from U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-7th.
Hailing from a large family in Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, McDonnell attended the then all-boys Bishop Ireton High School, where he played football. He quips that he was a geek in high school, but that statement sounds hard to believe from the well-spoken, quick-with-a-joke candidate, whose anchorman looks place him in his 40s rather than his full 55 years.
The eldest of five siblings, McDonnell grew up in a Democratic family. His dad, a Massachusetts native who worked for the federal government, was a Kennedy supporter, and his mother was a Democratic poll worker, as were Maureen's parents. The couple recall their parents voting Democratic throughout their years at home. But in the past decade, McDonnell's dad has donated money to his son, and his siblings have helped with the campaigns.
One of McDonnell's sisters, Eileen Reinaman, says all five siblings are "absolutely" Republicans now. "The values that our family was raised on are very consistent" with the party's, she adds.
Serving in the military just after the Vietnam War era, McDonnell says, helped turn his own political views to the right. Reinaman says that his years at the University of Notre Dame were also formative to his viewpoint.
He calls himself a "common-sense conservative" and agrees with President Obama's support of charter schools. The shouting heads that tend to dominate political debate turn off the candidate, who casually says you can "disagree and still be civil."
Military service is a common thread in the McDonnell tapestry. Maureen's father served in the Marine Corps during World War II; Bob's dad was in the Air Force; Bob served in the Army for four years and spent 16 in the reserves, and his 28-year-old daughter, Jeanine, then an Army lieutenant, was sent to Iraq a month before her father was elected attorney general.
"My dad sort of pushed me toward the military," McDonnell says, while noting that he joined the ROTC in part to pay for college. After his first year at Notre Dame, he met his future wife, a petite blonde cheerleader for the Washington Redskins who also worked for the State Department. The two Fairfax natives were at a party thrown by one of McDonnell's friends in the summer of 1973.
Maureen recalls a young man asking for her phone number at the party — on behalf of Bob. He says he decided that day that he wanted to marry the cute girl in yellow jeans; she jokes that it may have been more about free football tickets, a perk of being a cheerleader. He roots for the Redskins, but Fighting Irish football is his real passion; he follows recruitment news intensely, staffers say.
"I think she liked playing a little hard to get," he says of Maureen, but she agreed to go with him to a rock concert at Mount Vernon High School. The two dated through his college years and were married after his graduation in 1976. He proposed in a handwritten letter, while he was in college and she was in Vienna, Austria. "I was such a chicken back then," he says.
Not long after their wedding at Fort Belvoir, the couple was sent to a base in Germany, near the Czechoslovakian border, where a barbed-wire fence served as a visual reminder of the Iron Curtain. McDonnell ran a medical clinic.
They returned to Virginia in 1979, this time to Fort Eustis in Newport News, where he was a medical-supply officer at McDonald Army Health Center.
After Jeanine's birth, Maureen gave up working for the government and started a business selling skin-care and weight-loss products out of their home, an enterprise she's continued to this day. Bob retired from active duty in 1981 and climbed the ranks at American Hospital Supply Corp., which put his business degree to use in a variety of managerial positions. The family moved from Atlanta to Chicago to Kansas City, where their second daughter was born.
But with only a few years left for education funding under the GI Bill, he decided to go back to school, prompting a return to Tidewater. He was pursuing a master's degree in public policy at Regent University, founded by Baptist minister and TV evangelist Pat Robertson in 1978.
When the university started a law school in 1985, he enrolled. For someone with McDonnell's Irish-Catholic background, Regent had a different doctrine than he had grown up hearing, but he says he found kindred spirits there. "I liked the approach to ethics — honest and understanding," he says.
While in school, he had an internship with Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, an experience that he says helped develop his strong interest in welfare reform and criminal justice, and planted the seed for political involvement.
After graduating in 1989, he became a prosecutor in the Virginia Beach commonwealth's attorney's office. It was then that his path first crossed that of future opponent Creigh Deeds, who was Bath County's commonwealth's attorney.
The family grew in Virginia Beach; a third daughter was born. The same week he publicly announced his run for the state House of Delegates, Maureen announced they were having twins, due in October 1991.
The campaign photos, with Maureen looking about 10 minutes away from delivery, lent a bit of buzz to the mostly unknown McDonnell. He unseated Democrat Glenn B. McClanan, the 19-year incumbent, and hasn't looked back since.
In the House, McDonnell became chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee in 2003, initiating reforms on welfare, parental notification of abortion, drunken driving and juvenile justice. He opposed then-Gov. Mark Warner's 2004 budget along with other Republican delegates and voted three times to reduce the Governor's Opportunity Fund, a $10 million account to bring jobs to the state — a point often repeated by the Deeds campaign. His conservative profile was breached in a 1993 vote to support a one-gun-a-month law; the pro-gun-rights Deeds won the National Rifle Association's endorsement during the closely fought 2005 attorney general race as a result.
After winning that election, McDonnell made a name for himself as attorney general by cracking down on sex offenders, gangs and drug dealers. He and Gov. Tim Kaine worked together to close the mental-health loophole that allowed Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho to purchase two firearms, but the two men have differed on many issues, including pre-K education, one of Kaine's pet projects.
Undoubtedly a conservative, McDonnell nevertheless has made headway with some Democrats — most notably Sheila Crump Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television and $600,000 donor to the 2005 Kaine campaign.
Johnson, a Middleburg resident, called all of the candidates (including Democratic also-rans Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran) this past spring; McDonnell met with her in March, and his campaign kept in contact with her for four months before her July endorsement of the Republican.
She acknowledged that she's "still a Democrat," McDonnell says, but "the bottom line is, Sheila Johnson is a businessperson. She cares about which candidate is best [for business]."
His war chest is healthy; the last reporting deadline, June 30, showed $10.6 million raised and a $4.9 million balance.
McDonnell is free with general criticism of Deeds' politics. ("He's for bigger government and higher taxes; I'm for smaller government and lower taxes," he says.) But there is a level of respect between the candidates, who served together in the House of Delegates for nine years. McDonnell called Deeds after his primary win, and Deeds gave his condolences when Maureen's mother passed away this summer.
"He's a competitor," McDonnell says of his rival. "He works hard in his district." Deeds' views are "left of center," he adds, but "that doesn't mean he's not a nice guy."
A Stoplight Conference
Back in McLean, McDonnell hears someone calling his name, but it's not Frank Wolf this time — it's Marshall Coleman, the Republican who lost the 1989 governor's race to Doug Wilder in Virginia's second-closest statewide election. Coleman is sitting in a black Cadillac Escalade at a stoplight.
The two men confer through the driver's window until the light changes.
"He just said, ‘Win,' " McDonnell reports. " ‘We need you.' That's what everybody tells me." He laughs: "No pressure."