Friday, August 07, 2009

Obama throws political muscle to Deeds

The president worked to rally Democratic activists around the gubernatorial candidate.

At a Thursday rally before more than 1,500 supporters in McLean, President Obama (right) spoke in support of Virginia's Democratic candidate for governor, Creigh Deeds.

Associated Press

At a Thursday rally before more than 1,500 supporters in McLean, President Obama (right) spoke in support of Virginia's Democratic candidate for governor, Creigh Deeds.

Blue Ridge Caucus


The latest from our Blue Ridge Caucus politics blog

    From The Roanoke Times

    McLEAN -- President Obama provided a motivational spark and a funding boost to Democrat Creigh Deeds' campaign for governor Thursday night, thrusting himself into a race that is being watched nationally as an early test of the president's popularity.

    Obama joined Deeds and Gov. Tim Kaine for a rally before more than 1,500 supporters in a packed ballroom of the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner hotel, delivering a shot of adrenaline to a campaign that is trailing in the polls and working to energize activists who helped Obama carry Virginia in last year's presidential election.

    Obama also did some campaigning for himself, defending his administration's efforts to fix the economy and blistering Republican critics, who he blamed for creating the crisis he inherited.

    "I expect to be held responsible," Obama said. "But I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking."

    Obama accused his GOP critics of having "selective memory" about the economy and said, "When I walked in we had a $1.3 trillion deficit. That was gift-wrapped and waiting for me when I walked into the Oval Office."

    Obama last year became the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 to win Virginia. But the economy and fierce debates over health care overhauls and other Obama policy initiatives have eroded some of the president's public support.

    Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, has largely ignored Republican rival Bob McDonnell's efforts to wage debates over hot-button issues in Washington. But he was not shy about accepting Obama's backing Thursday night. He even expressed awe over the experience, saying, "I'm still trying to get used to the fact that the President of the United States flew Marine One here to Virginia for me."

    In his introduction of Obama, Deeds said, "We have come a long way to restore confidence and pride in America and we're not done yet."

    Obama described Deeds as "cut from the same cloth" as Kaine and his Democratic predecessor, Mark Warner, now in the U.S. Senate. The president said Deeds would "continue the progress that has been made" under the Democratic governors.

    McDonnell, the former attorney general, has tried to tether Deeds to national Democratic efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, overhaul health care and make it easier for unions to organize. The strategy has helped McDonnell mobilize his voting base and could draw swing voters who disapprove of the president's job performance.

    But McDonnell also has praised the president's support for charter schools and merit-based pay for teachers.

    "When the administration and Congress push initiatives that will negatively impact Virginians, Bob McDonnell will oppose them," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "When the administration and Congress propose initiatives that will be positive for Virginians, Bob McDonnell will support them. He is doing that right now in his strong support of the president's effort to expand charter schools and performance pay for teachers and principals."

    In a private fundraiser with about 200 donors, Obama said that Deeds is in a tough race. "While Virginia is moving in the right direction, it is still a purple state," Obama said.

    The party occupying the White House has not won a Virginia governor's race since 1973, and Obama acknowledged that "the incumbent party is going to have some challenges" because of the economy.

    "I want to make sure that everybody who was as activated around my campaign just a few months ago, is not sitting back and simply saying their work is done," Obama said.

    Deeds' campaign would not disclose how much money the fundraiser generated. Deeds' aides said they are hopeful that Obama will make campaign appearances outside of Northern Virginia later in the campaign.

    Deeds emphasized education in his rally speech and hailed changes advanced by Obama, Kaine and Warner.

    Deeds said he supports Obama's efforts to expand charter schools. McDonnell's campaign called that declaration a "stunning reversal," citing Deeds' votes against charter schools legislation in the General Assembly. Deeds' campaign noted that he voted this year for a bill that would lift a cap on the number of charter schools allowed in a school district.

    Deeds called for expanded pre-kindergarten education, increasing teachers' salaries to the national average and boosting math and science education. He argued that McDonnell opposed Warner's efforts to increase education funding and would take money from schools to pay for his transportation funding plan.

    "One thing I know as I travel around the commonwealth is this: Virginians don't want to go back," Deeds said. "Virginia can't afford to go back."

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