POLITICS BLOG: The Horse Race Mentality

By: Matt Holmes
By: Matt Holmes

Democrat Creigh Deeds has plenty of momentum in the race for the governor's mansion. But, with several furlongs still to go in this horse race, is he peaking too early?

The Horse Race Mentality

Creigh Deeds told me in an interview Friday that everyone wants to look at the campaign for governor as a horse race. But, he added, dragging out the old line we heard so many times from Terry McAuliffe throughout the Democratic primary, "the only polls that matter are the ones in November."

That's too bad for Deeds. Although he hasn't surged ahead yet in any polls, the Bath County Democrat has pulled into a statistical dead heat with Republican Bob McDonnell in multiple surveys and his campaign seems to have taken control of the discourse in the race.

A quick check of the calendar will show...yep, it's still only September, but several moves by Deeds' strategists (see the Post transportation Op-Ed below, the constant barrage of negative ads on McDonnell's social conservatism) seem to be winning over independent and women voters.

Deeds also told me (and McAuliffe would second the notion) he's worried about peaking too early in a race that still has a month and a half to go. It's a valid concern, considering he's gone out on a limb continuing to talk openly about tax hikes for transportation.

To re-gain momentum, the onus now falls on McDonnell to re-frame the debate around job creation and taxes, two of the issues that catapulted him to the lead in all the polls in the first place.

Deeds' Op-Ed in today's Washington Post:

Our transportation infrastructure is crumbling around us. More than 4,000 bridges are structurally deficient, we can't keep up with basic maintenance of roads, and there is almost no state money for new road construction or rail and transit improvements.

-- Bring high-speed rail to Virginia.

-- Expand freight and passenger rail.

-- Utilize bus rapid transit.

-- Reduce rush-hour traffic through telecommuting and flex-time tax credits.

-- And expand road and rail projects in Southwest and Southside Virginia.

The last time Virginia passed meaningful transportation funding was in 1986, under Gov. Gerald Baliles (D), who created a commission to provide recommendations and build support for financing. Since then, each time a governor has presented a proposal to the General Assembly to raise meaningful transportation revenue, it has failed.

There must be a nexus between funding and those who use our transportation system -- Virginians and those from other states. Virginia needs a bipartisan plan that must have enough funding to deal with our multibillion-dollar backlog and make the needed investments for our future. All funding options are on the table except taking money from education and other obligations met by Virginia's general fund.
Let me be clear regarding taxes. I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution. As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I'll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation -- even if it includes new taxes.

Bob McDonnell has pledged not to sign a transportation bill with new revenue. His approach is to pay for transportation with money from the general fund. As The Post's Frederick Kunkle has reported, "general funds are raised from a variety of sources, such as individual and corporate income taxes. These funds can be spent . . . at the discretion of the General Assembly and the governor. The majority of the money in the general fund goes to education (45.9 percent), with the rest to health and human resources (24.2 percent) and public safety (11.1 percent)."

McDonnell's idea of using general funds for transportation is not new. In 2007, an editorial in the Daily Press of Hampton Roads said that McDonnell urged "the General Assembly to exploit the gap in state road funding as a rationale for reducing state spending on education, public safety, health care and conservation. That such an ideological purpose lies behind the Republican transportation proposal has been implied all along. McDonnell made it explicit.

My approach is honest, straightforward -- and the only one that can succeed. Working together, we'll get Virginia moving again.
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