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Nice Guys Finish Last

If Creigh Deeds loses today—and few candidates have hoisted themselves out of the kind of hole he’s dug—let it be known that the Commonwealth of Virginia missed out on having a very nice man in Richmond.

“When you elect a governor, you elect not only their positions, but you elect their character, their heart,” declared Senator Mark Warner, to a gamely cheering crowd of about 150 in Alexandria’s Market Square last night. “This is a good man, a man who has served Virginia and Virginians with distinction.”

“I think there’s something to be said for having a little emotion,” said the state’s other senator, Jim Webb, on Deeds’ well-known sensitivity.

The current governor Tim Kaine then explained that each of his three children in the page program at the Virginia state senate had picked Deeds as his or her favorite senator at the end of the session. “Somebody who is in a high and exalted position, who will take the time to make an impression upon a young person, that’s my kind of person,” Kaine effused. “I know his heart, I know his character, and character counts at the end of the day.”

As the state’s Democratic firmament praised Deeds, the candidate stood off to the side of the stage, smiling, not talking to anyone. When Kaine called him up onstage, Deeds approached people in at the border of the crowd and started hugging and handshaking. Those he made contact with seemed more surprised than anything else to find themselves being embraced by the gangly Deeds; he comes off more like a man pretending to be a candidate than the real thing. 

“I can’t believe this!” he said after arriving at the podium, his voice halting and boyish, blue eyes wide. Breaking with the rally’s theme of denying the inevitable, he tried a little morbid humor. “Sometimes, when I look at the polls, I feel like … the most decorated marine in the history of the Corps, when he was trapped in Korea in December of 1950, he called his troops together, and he said ‘Ok guys, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us, they’re on our right, they’re on our left. We got ‘em just where we want ‘em!’”

Earlier that morning, Deeds’ opponent, Bob McDonnell, had also swung through Alexandria. A parking lot behind the squat, white-painted brick headquarters had been pressed into service as a rallying ground, and staff smushed supporters in front of a makeshift stage for maximum television effect. This ticket wasn’t as preoccupied with being nice.

“Good morning, Northern Virginia!” roared Bill Bolling, the incumbent lieutenant governor. “Or, as they’re going to be calling it tomorrow night, McDonnell, Bolling, and Cuccinelli country!”

“They’re getting so desperate on the other side they’re thinking of flying Tim Kaine into Virginia,” joked the attorney general candidate, Ken Cuccinelli. “We aim to win Northern Virginia. And if we do that, if we perform that well, it isn’t just gonna be the top of the ticket, we aren’t going to be talking just about victory,” he said, holding a broom that read “McBollinelli” and using it to sweep the stage.

Not long ago, Alexandria was the locus of a strong Democratic wave in Northern Virginia that had swept Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb into office. Last year, the town broke 72 percent for Obama. But a victory by one Republican city councilman in a May election had put blood in the water, and while Deeds delights in his farm country roots, McDonnell has tied himself to the region at every turn.

“Wow, is it great to be back in Northern Virginia, especially this special town of Alexandria, where I went to high school just down the road at Bishop Ireton. During my time in college, I worked for four years for the city of Alexandria for the bicentennial in 1976,” he began, as his two daughters and wife Maureen, resplendent in long blonde hair and high red heels, stood behind him. “Our roots go back a long way in this historic city, and our path to victory was paved right here in Alexandria!”

By the end, at nine in the morning, it was still cold—a pair of Pekingese dogs wearing hand-made “McDognell for Virginia” jackets shivered violently. The band of candidates clambered back into their none-too-fancy RV, and set off for points south, leaving behind a crowd milling around excitedly. Someone handed out flyers for the next night’s victory party at an Alexandria bar. Beer might be flowing there when the polls close this evening, but there’s nothing—certainly not niceness—more intoxicating than success.