June 5th, 2009
01:37 PM ET
12 years ago

Wilder: Virginia Democrats 'not energized' in governor's race

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."

Filed under: Virginia
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Fair is Fair

    This happens to the Democrat party each and every time they get into power. They sit back on their haunches, take things for granted, and "poof" – they're gone.

    The same way they're acting this time around. They always find a way to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

    June 5, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Texas Teacher

    You can bet that the BIG BUSINESS Republicans supported by Big Business WILL NOT step in to help anyone but republicans! It's going to be a battle to the end! And big business is not going to go down easy... and they HAVE the MONEY!

    June 5, 2009 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |

    It will probably take Pres. Obama going out there to get folks excited. However, he probably shouldn't do that until after the primary.

    June 5, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. southerncousin

    You can't blame folks for not being to excited about a race featuring Terry McAuliffe, the Clinton stooge.

    June 5, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  5. Unhappy Dem

    Maybe they realized the mistake they made in november.

    June 5, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  6. Woody F

    Is it any wonder when the citizens of this country are seeing the biggest expansion of government by the dems in an effort to control every facet of our lives. Obama will surely be out there trying to get out the vote but as recent polls suggest while our President might be popular his policies are not so popular.

    June 5, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  7. Dave

    It's called uninspiring candidates. Maybe more people are catcing on to the two-party scam.

    June 5, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  8. David

    It sounds like Wilder is our of gas, unmotivated, does not want the job bad enough, and offering his 'goodbye' speech. DNC focus should go to a candidate who want's the job, and is confident he can win, not someone who has given up before the race starts.

    June 5, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  9. Legna

    Why would anyone be energized to ruin this State. We don't want to be like California. We want fiscally conservative people running this State. It does not matter wether they are Democratic,Republican ,or Independent. As long as they stop taxing and spending.

    June 5, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  10. Had It

    This constant campaigning is getting to everyone.

    There should be a maximum of 6 months before election day. TOO MUCH

    June 5, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  11. Michael

    Vote Creigh Deeds! REAL Change in Virginia!

    June 5, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  12. Ennis, LA

    McAuliffe is a Clintonite Democrat. He's hoping ole Bill and Hillary will
    get him elected. The GOP also has an edge in New Jersey over the
    unpopular Corzine. A GOP victory in these two states will surely
    energize Republicans; consequently, deflate Obama!

    June 5, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  13. WIlly Brown

    Wilder did you see the 3 losers your party put up?

    June 5, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  14. tcaudilllg

    Do these people even know how to lead a faction? It's awful hard to govern if you aren't fooling some of the people all of the time.

    June 5, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  15. Jon

    I believe that the governor is correct. Most of the people I talk to in the
    ”Backcountry of Virginia” are not aware that there is a primary coming up.

    June 5, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  16. gt

    will see how liberal virgina is when they allow gay marriage

    June 5, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  17. phoenix86

    That "something in the air" that will make it difficult for a democrat to win is the foul stench coming from the White House Office to Repeal the Bill of Rights.

    June 5, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  18. dan

    If we need an extra $20 billion or so:


    from the Bill of Rights:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    June 5, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  19. Helen

    For ONCE I have to agree with Wilder, I didn't vote for him but he's right on this. Virginians realize what a terrible path the democrats are taking us economically. Virginians will not go the way of states like Michigan and California. We have been the best managed state for a long, long time and hope to continue to do so. Virginia is pro-business, opposite from the Obama Adm. Bob McDonnell will win in November and also someone to keep an eye on in 2012!

    June 5, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  20. Chris D.

    They just had two solid DEM governors.....if they can' find the same quality in the DEM party this time around, they should vote(cough,cough,gasp) for the GOP candidate.......Have to go w/ the best choice no matter what party.

    June 5, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |