Just five days before the Nov. 3 Virginia gubernatorial election, Virginia Democratic candidate Sen. Creigh Deeds must energize young voters, as well as the Democratic base, if he hopes to overcome his double-digit deficit in the polls to Republican candidate, Bob McDonnell.
With the hope of bolstering Democratic support, Deeds held a rally in Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon featuring President Barack Obama, whom Deeds said could help energize the young and new voters who cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election.
"[Obama] did a remarkable job last year, and I'm very hopeful that he can help energize young voters," Deeds said.
Deeds could use a jumpstart from Obama after a Washington Post poll, released on Tuesday, showed Deeds trailing McDonnell by 11 points (55 percent to 44 percent) just one week before Election Day.
As McDonnell's lead over Deeds widens, student interest at the University of Richmond continues to be sparse, lacking the enthusiasm present during last year's presidential race.
Julie Laskaris, associate professor of classical studies and faculty adviser for the Young Democrats, said it seemed that students had expended much of their energy in 2008.
"A governor's race at a school where most of the students are not born and raised in that state is just not going to arouse the same interest," Laskaris said, adding that she hoped students would realize the importance of political involvement. "I really do wish that students in general would keep a political awareness no matter where it is that they are living. Political activism is part of being an American - we need to participate in the political process."
Laskaris attributed some of that "vacuum of energy" to the lack of a charismatic candidate in the race, a role she said Obama filled in 2008.
"I think that because [Obama] is charismatic and such a good speaker, it's easy to just get pulled along by that aspect and not follow through with the nitty-gritty work," Laskaris said.
Despite this, Deeds has continued to make his push toward young voters, saying before his rally that he would help college students who would soon be entering the job market by restoring confidence in the economy and stimulating growth in every sector of Virginia. He added that he wanted to help make college education more affordable and accessible.
"Higher education is the key to economic growth," Deeds said.
Dan Palazzolo, professor of political science, said Deeds' failure to energize what had been an enthusiastic base of voters last year was a critical reason for his deficit, especially when coupled with McDonnell's success with independent voters.
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"I'm not so sure that unless [Deeds] was able to really break into the independent vote, that mobilizing the Democratic base would be efficient," Palazzolo said. "I don't even know that it would be. It's hard to pull that out in two weeks."
Palazzolo also credited McDonnell for running a strong and smooth campaign.
"[McDonnell] has stuck to the right issues," Palazzolo said. "He's been clear and consistent and he's an articulate candidate. I think something really calamitous would have to take place for this campaign to take a turn."
Democrats have been elected governor in the last two elections - Sen. Mark Warner won in 2001 and his lieutenant governor, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, succeeded him in 2005. Virginia law prevents a governor from serving consecutive terms.
Despite recent Democratic success, history favors the Republicans. Since 1973, the candidate from the party opposite that of the president has been elected governor of Virginia.
This year's election is a rematch of the razor-close 2005 attorney general race, when McDonnell defeated Deeds in a recount by 360 votes.
Regardless of who is elected governor, Palazzolo said either candidate would face a difficult first year in office with additional budget cuts expected. He also said next year's budget was already set, and although the new governor could make amendments to it, he wouldn't have the opportunity to push his agenda through the budget.
"It's hard for the governor to really maneuver that first year," Palazzolo said.
Virginia voters will also determine two other statewide offices on Nov. 3. Incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling seeks reelection against Democrat Jody Wagner, while Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Steve Shannon vie for attorney general.
Contact staff writer Stephen O'Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org
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