WASHINGTON (CNN) – Democrat Creigh Deeds looked to shake up the Virginia governor's race Friday with a new television advertisement and a speech aimed at rallying independents and Democrats who have so far been less than enthusiastic about the campaign.
A Washington Post poll released last weekend showed Deeds trailing Republican Bob McDonnell by 15 points among likely voters. While the poll showed independents leaning heavily towards McDonnell, it also showed that relatively few voters are familiar with the candidates and their positions at this point in the race.
In an address at George Mason University in Fairfax County - the most populous county in the commonwealth - Deeds tried to define McDonnell as a divisive social conservative who supported the economic policies of former President George W. Bush.
Highlighting McDonnell's positions against stem cell research and abortion rights, Deeds said his opponent makes "division and personal crusades the priority over the common good."
"This is my opponent's record," Deeds said. "This single-minded crusade has been his priority and focus. He believes that his social agenda should come before sound public policy, and his record, his career in politics, reflects it."
McDonnell has tried to appeal to moderates and pro-business interests in Virginia by making the race about federal issues and President Obama's economic agenda, claiming that Deeds supports an energy tax, "socialized medicine" and greater influence for labor unions.
On Friday, Deeds tried to make the race about Virginia issues - particularly transportation, education, and tax credits for small businesses that create jobs. The goal: to remind voters of the successes of the last two Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who remain relatively popular in the state.
The Deeds campaign also released a new television ad featuring Warner, with a narrator proclaiming that Deeds will "keep Virginia moving forward with the pro-business economic policies Mark Warner put in place, and not go backwards by embracing the failed economic policies of George W. Bush." The ad will run statewide, but not in the expensive northern Virginia media market.
"Creigh is really going to drive this contrast that McDonnell is just an unacceptable alternative, and we can't afford that," said a Deeds adviser. "Right now the dialogue has been focused on this national environment, and this is a way to break through that a discussion, and say there is a lot at stake here in Virginia."
The adviser called it "a re-framing speech." But the Republican Governors Association quickly released a statement with the subject line: "Deeds tries to press reset, misses."
"It's commonly known that the best time to dump bad news is on Fridays during the summer," RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. "Apparently, Creigh Deeds also thinks it's the best time to make no news."
UPDATE: McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said Deeds is "trying to bring back old time wedge politics to tear Virginians apart."
That was the most backwards looking speech ever given by a Virginia gubernatorial nominee," Martin said. "If Creigh Deeds thinks blowing the dust off an old political playbook amounts to a major new announcement, he doesn't get what the voters of Virginia are looking for in their next governor."