WHO IS the best candidate for Northern Virginia? Judge by appearances and there are two obvious possibilities in the Democratic primary for governor: Brian Moran, the former Alexandria prosecutor who served a dozen years in the House of Delegates, and Terry R. McAuliffe, the Richmond outsider who has lived in McLean for roughly 17 years. Not in the running would be R. Creigh Deeds, an unassuming state senator from a district closer to West Virginia than to Fairfax City.
However, delve a bit deeper, and the answer might surprise you. In 18 years in the General Assembly, Mr. Deeds has time and again supported measures that might be unpopular with his rural constituency but that are the right thing to do, for Northern Virginia and the state as a whole. He has demonstrated an understanding of the problems that matter most, the commitment to solve them and the capacity to get things done. Mr. Deeds may not be the obvious choice in the June 9 primary, but he’s the right one.
Unlike his opponents, Mr. Deeds has made clear that he would make transportation his first priority, vowing to tackle this region’s greatest challenge while his political capital is at its height. His record suggests that he could make headway. Both Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran supported the plan of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), ultimately gutted by the state Supreme Court, to generate millions in transportation funding. Last year, however, as both candidates were laying the groundwork for their campaigns, Mr. Deeds courageously voted for a proposal that included raising the state’s gas tax, unchanged since 1986; Mr. Moran helped kill the bill by opposing it in committee. (Mr. McAuliffe says that he’s not opposed to raising revenue for roads, but as with every other state issue, he has no record.)
Virginia’s gerrymandered districts lead to a lack of competition in elections and an aversion to compromise in Richmond. Mr. Deeds has long championed a more balanced process, introducing legislation to create a bipartisan commission to draw up voting districts. Mr. Moran has staked a claim as the candidate who would protect the environment, but Mr. Deeds has a solid record of promoting green jobs, land conservation and alternative energy research.
Some progressive voters may look past Mr. Deeds, assuming he’s too far to the right on social issues. They should look again. Yes, he describes himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment. He’s willing, however, to put limits on gun ownership when the stakes are highest, brokering a compromise in an effort to close the state’s notorious gun show loophole. His support for abortion rights and for an amendment to prohibit the Confederate flag emblem from being displayed on state license plates are all the more impressive considering the weight of conservative voters in his district.
The knock on Mr. Deeds is that he’s a nice guy — an odd insult. The implication is that he might not be forceful enough to push his agenda through a balky legislature. Our judgment, from watching Mr. Deeds over the years, is that he is more politically astute than his “aw, shucks” persona might suggest. He has carefully studied Democratic governors who have accomplished the most — notably Mark R. Warner and Gerald L. Baliles — and understands how they mixed reaching out with playing tough. He’s better positioned to do both than either of his opponents.
Democratic voters may wonder: How can Mr. Deeds beat presumptive Republican nominee Robert F. McDonnell, who beat Mr. Deeds in the attorney general’s race four years ago? The answer: Mr. Deeds lost by a scant 323 votes out of roughly 2 million cast despite being outspent 2 to 1. This is one of only two governor’s races slated for the fall, and whoever wins the primary will have plenty of cash. Virginia is still more purple than blue, and Mr. Deeds’s moderate platform would have the broadest appeal.
Our judgment, though, is based on who would make the best governor in the Warner-Kaine tradition, not who would be the strongest candidate. Like those Northern Virginia senators who have endorsed Mr. Deeds — [...]– we believe that he understands Northern Virginia. We also believe that he has the character, experience and savvy to be a successful leader of the entire commonwealth.