Personally, we like all three candidates. They bring different strengths and weaknesses to the race; any of them would be a good governor, certainly better than Bob McDonnell, masquerading as a moderate.
In the end we had to go with the man we thought would run the best campaign. The winner of the Democratic primary will have to battle not just McDonnell, but history. The Virginia governor's mansion typically goes to the party out of power in the White House, an edge for the GOP this year.
Of the three Democratic candidates, we think McAuliffe will do the best job running against McDonnell. McAuliffe has demonstrated his ability to raise scads of money, which will be needed in this race. Don't think McDonnell will somehow limit himself to Virginia donors--there are only two gubernatorial races this year, and the GOP is going to go all out to win in Va.; it will be a national race.
More importantly, however, McAuliffe has run a clean, upbeat, well-oiled campaign. Everything seems to be professionally done (sometimes overdone), there is great attention to detail, and the campaign has been strategically sound.
Equally important--and a question mark for us at the beginning of the campaign--T.M. has shown a good deal of substance on the campaign trail. We don't think he'd just be an empty suit in the Governor's Mansion if elected.
In contrast, Brian Moran--the frontrunner before McAuliffe jumped in--has been a disappointment. Once McAuliffe got in, Moran got defensive and started making mistakes. His strategy has been shaky, which suggests to us that he won't be a strong enough candidate against McDonnell. Moran has also tacked to the left in a desperate effort to outflank McAuliffe--apparently without success--which would also hurt him in the general election.
Creigh Deeds is a tougher call. Mr. Deeds has deliberately run a low key campaign, knowing he couldn't keep up with either McAuliffe or Moran on the fundraising front. Deeds barely lost to McDonnell in a statewide race for Attorney General four years ago (but he trailed Tim Kaine in almost every corner of the state).
The primary appeal of Deeds is that he is a "real" Virginian, whose moderate views make him much harder to tag as some kind of "liberal" by the McDonnell crowd. Deeds would bring out some Democratic votes in southwest Virginia that would be difficult for anyone else to get.
On the other hand, Deeds will get little enthusiasm from African-American voters, a critical component of any Democratic victory in November. Indeed, it's just hard to picture Deeds getting anyone excited about his campaign outside southwest Virginny.
Not surprisingly, there's been a little posturing this year over who's the most authentic Virginian, a jab at McAuliffe who's been on the national stage for many years. Yet, similar sentiments could have been held against Mark Warner when he ran for governor, and look how he turned out.
Three-four months ago, we couldn't have seen ourselves endorsing Terry McAuliffe. But come November, we're going to need his energy, the money he can raise, and the enthusiasm he can generate.
Come June 9, we intend to cast our ballot for Mr. McAuliffe.