WASHINGTON (CNN) - Douglas Wilder, who became the country's first African-American governor when Virginians elected him in 1989, thinks that no matter who emerges victorious from the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, the party will find it awfully tough to defeat Republican candidate Bob McDonnell in November.
Wilder said "there's something in the air" that makes him think Virginia voters aren't prepared to elect a Democrat to the governorship for the third straight time. Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have won the last two gubernatorial elections in the commonwealth. Before that, Republicans won two consecutive victories with George Allen and Jim Gilmore.
"Each time around, voters say, 'Wait a minute, no one's supposed to be here forever,' and I think Virginians like to see that degree of balance," Wilder said in an interview with CNN. "They like to mix it up. I think the guy who can ride that horse to show some grasp of the independent voter, rather than just the Republican or Democratic voter, will be successful. That's key."
The former Democratic governor, who later served as mayor of Richmond from 2005 to 2009, said that the three Democratic candidates running in the primary - former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, former House caucus chairman Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds - have so far not found a way to excite Democratic voters, including the African-American voters who turned out so heavily for Barack Obama in 2008.
"They're not energized," he said. "I don't see any energy among any voters."
He said the three Democratic candidates "have not really grasped the attention of the voters as it relates to particular issues. What are you doing to do? Where's the money going to come from?"
Wilder said that despite the amount of money McAuliffe has poured into the race, and despite signs that Deeds has some late momentum, there is no indication that any candidate has an edge in the closing days of the campaign. "They are all still in striking distance of one another," he said.
He also downplayed McAuliffe's new endorsement from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association. He said support from a member of Virginia's political establishment is much more valuable than an endorsement from someone "with no linkage to Virginia."
"I'm quite certain he is very fine gentleman, it's just that I haven't met with him," Wilder said of Schweitzer. "But I don't think that turns an election. But I don't discount that, but I don't count it either."