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Democratic primary is a month away
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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
In a month, Virginia Democrats will go to the polls to choose their gubernatorial candidate.
Will it be the smooth-talking businessman and national party operative who counts the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton among his friends?
Or maybe the Massachusetts-born, and still Massachusetts-accented, lawyer and former state delegate from Alexandria?
Or perhaps the slow-talking country lawyer from rural Bath County who nearly beat the Republican gubernatorial candidate in a race four years ago?
It's a choice that will be made by only a handful of the party's most hard-core believers, because it's rare that a primary--coming, as this June 9 one does, at a time of high school graduations, summer vacations and so on--attracts much attention.
Just a fraction of the state's roughly 5 million voters are expected to vote.
But the candidates are trying their hardest.
Terry McAuliffe, a businessman turned national Democratic Party chairman, has already been running television ads in several parts of the state, paid for by his strong lead in fundraising.
Creigh Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, followed suit this week.
They and former House of Delegates member Brian Moran of Alexandria have held four debates, with a fifth to come, and have developed campaign machines that churn out e-mailed press releases to counter every questionable statement, every murky past association, every potential gotcha.
And they're just getting started.
"In a primary, you always put your money at the end of the calendar, not the beginning, so most of the expenditures and most of the advertising, especially the negative advertising, will be aired after Memorial Day," said University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato. "I think you're going to see a backlog of attacks in the last two weeks."
Already the tone of the race is increasingly negative. There are relatively few deep policy differences among the three--apart from disparities over things such as offshore drilling and coal plants--which makes character and experience the main battleground.
"You aren't looking at huge differences among the candidates on issue matters. That's the way it often is in primaries," said George Mason University political analyst Stephen Farnsworth. "Personality and character matters will come to the fore, particularly in campaign advertising, as the candidates try to explain why they're a better choice than the other two."