In 2001, after Sen. Emily Couric’s death, a special election was held to determine who would fill out her term. The 25th senate district contains Charlottesville, of course, so we knew that we could just select a nominee from among ourselves. The folks we expected stepped up to vie for the nomination: former Mayor Nancy O’Brien, City Councilor Meredith Richards, Al Weed…plus some delegate from Bath County (wherever that is), Creigh Deeds. We held the nominating convention in Charlottesville one Saturday morning, for which it was pretty clear that a woman was going to win, it was just a question of which one. But then we arrived that morning. Del. Deeds had filled a whole bus with folks from Alleghany, Bath, Buckingham, Buena Vista, Covington, and Rockbridge (not a single one of which any of us Charlottesville muckity-mucks could have picked out on a map.) He had slick-looking brochures, palm cards, and stickers. None of our candidates were even close. When we went into the balloting process, damned if that Deeds fellow didn’t lick everybody in the first round of voting, getting a majority of votes on the first ballot. He knew that the voting would be weighted by municipality, he knew how to campaign—not the deal-cutting like in Charlottesville, but really campaign—and he sure knew how make folks underestimate him. We never saw him coming, but we sure adopted him as one of our own real quick. Just a few weeks later he licked his Republican opponent in a landslide victory, continuing his lifelong streak of never losing an election.
This winter, when Terry McAuliffe was thinking about entering the race, I had a chat with Creigh Deeds about it. I was concerned how he’d fare against a well-funded pair of popular, liberal, upstate Democrats. I didn’t see how he could get the nomination, given that McAuliffe’s own data must have shown that the electorate was looking for somebody pretty far to the left, or else he wouldn’t be running. Creigh smiled, and in just about two minutes, explained to me just how he would win. He’d stay positive, and let McAuliffe and Moran fight over the same slice of the pie—geographically and ideologically speaking—while he sat back, raised money, and campaigned in every corner of the state. The two candidates would tear each other up, but they wouldn’t bother with him, since he’d be polling so low that they’d just ignore him. Then, just before the primary, they’d do enough damage to each other and Creigh would gain enough popular support that he’d shoot up in the polls. Before they had time to react, the primary would be upon us, and Creigh would win the race.
Don’t let anybody tell you that today was about luck. Luck had nothing to do with it. Today was about Creigh Deeds kicking ass and taking names, so that he can follow up with a thank-you note. That’s just how they do it in Bath County.