WASHINGTON (CNN) – Virginia Democrats are eagerly pouncing on Mike Huckabee for telling an audience in Appalachia that voters in northern Virginia "aren't necessarily thinking the same way folks like you and me think."
Huckabee made the remarks in southwest Virginia's Tazewell County on Monday while campaigning with Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor. His appearance was recorded and posted on YouTube by a state Democratic operative.
"They have never fully understood how hard it is for a lot of people to put a paycheck together, be able to feed a family," Huckabee said. "Some folks up there near the Beltway," he claimed, have "never fully understood how hard it is for a lot of people to put a paycheck together, be able to feed a family."
The comments were reminiscent of a gaffe made last October by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a campaign adviser to John McCain, who went on cable television and contrasted the strongly Democratic Washington suburbs with the rest of state, which she called 'real Virginia.' The Obama campaign, eager to shore up support in vote-heavy northern Virginia, seized on the comment.
Virginia Democratic Party chairman Richard C. Cranwell called Huckabee's remarks "divisive" and demanded that McDonnell condemn them. "It's the same thing they tried to do last year with the 'real Virginia,'" Cranwell said. "I expect we won't be seeing Mike Huckabee back in Virginia again."
State senator Creigh Deeds, one of three Democrats seeking his party's nomination for governor this year, said Huckabee's comments were "hurtful" and asked McDonnell supporters to "pick up a newspaper to find out that Virginians are hurting across the commonwealth."
Another Democratic candidate, former delegate Brian Moran, said Huckabee "knows better than this." Moran said "there's no real Virginia or fake Virginia, there's just one Commonwealth of Virginia."
Terry McAuliffe, the third Democratic candidate for governor and a resident of the wealthy northern Virginia enclave of McLean, did not put out a statement on Huckabee's remarks.
The McAuliffe campaign had made a separate push on Thursday to highlight a different statement in the same Huckabee speech. Huckabee joked that Republicans should let the air out of Democrats' tires on election day. McAuliffe said that voter suppression is "not a laughing matter."
A spokesman for McDonnell, Tucker Martin, pointed out that McDonnell was raised in Fairfax and that "he knows northern Virginia is the economic engine of Virginia." Martin said Huckabee "made some comments that do not reflect how integrated Virginia's economy is."
Virginia congressman Frank Wolf also chimed in to defend McDonnell. "He understands Northern Virginia and the issues we face because this is where he is from, and where his family is from," Wolf said in a statement issued through the McDonnell campaign.
UPDATE: McAuliffe issued a statement calling Huckabee's remarks "the latest incarnation of the tired 'Northern Virginia vs. the rest of the state' myth" that has blocked progress in the General Assembly.
"It's unfortunate that Bob McDonnell stood by silently as Mike Huckabee demeaned Northern Virginia," he said.