April 24th, 2009
12:09 PM ET
13 years ago

Virginia candidates thrilled to be 'the only game in town'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/15/art.terryshad0415.jpg caption="Terry McAuliffe has already told DNC chairman Tim Kaine to pump money into the Virginia governor's race."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Virginia's gubernatorial candidates are a spoiled bunch. With their election taking place in that odd year after a presidential election, the candidates are happily preparing for - even boasting about - the financial windfall from the national parties that awaits them once the general election kicks off in June.

As Joe Abbey, the campaign manager for Democrat Creigh Deeds, put it: "We're typically the only game in town."

There's also a governor's race in New Jersey, of course, where poll numbers show that the Republican frontrunner, Chris Christie, has a good shot at knocking off incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine. But the stakes are seen as higher in Virginia, a newly-christened swing state with shifting demographic patterns that have emboldened Democrats and forced the state GOP to do some serious soul-searching.

"Many have said that the road for the resurgence of the Republican party and the conservative cause goes through Virginia," said Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor, who is framing his candidacy around job creation rather than focusing on wedge issues that have fueled past GOP campaigns in the commonwealth.

McDonnell told CNN that he talks to Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele "regularly" about campaign resources and said he has seven or eight fundraisers planned around the country in the next two months.

"The Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association and a number of other people around the country are very motivated to help us and they're going to do some significant things for us," he said.

McDonnell said national money is important because Virginians aren't giving to candidates as they normally would, because of the down economy. Like his Democratic rivals, most of McDonnell's cash so far has been raised privately from donors and other interests. But the RGA has already given $1 million to McDonnell's campaign and will likely give more.

The three Democrats in the race are in a somewhat tougher spot. They won't see money from the Democratic National Committee or the Democratic Governors Association until primary voters select a candidate on June 9.

In the meantime, other national interests such as unions and military contractors have given heavily to their preferred candidates. Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, has soaked up tens of thousands of dollars from famous donors like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and media mogul Haim Saban.

But once primary voters pick a Democratic nominee, all three candidates say they expect some serious bank from the national party apparatus, especially because the DNC is now chaired by the current Virginia governor, Tim Kaine.

"This is the big show until next year," former House delegate Brian Moran told CNN. "With Tim Kaine being the DNC chairman and the Democratic governor of Virginia, and with two popular Democratic senators and the President of the United States, there's no question I'll have sufficient resources to win in November."

McAuliffe was even more emphatic in demanding that Kaine needs to pony up. He said he called Kaine after he was named DNC chairman in January and reminded him of the $5 million McAuliffe gave Kaine in 2001 when their roles were flipped. McAuliffe said it was the single largest gift ever given to a governor's campaign in a non-presidential year.

"I hope he's going to put money in here and he better beat my record," McAuliffe said. "I think he ought to double my record."

Abbey, Deeds' campaign manager, said recent Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia "have not been left wanting too often" in the finance department.

"I can't speak for Gov. Kaine," he said, "but I would be highly surprised if there wasn't a large focus, if we didn't have a lot of help."

Filed under: Bob McDonnell • Brian Moran • Creigh Deeds • Terry McAuliffe • Virginia
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