Election season means another Columbia Democrats campaign trip, and this year, they are returning to the Old Dominion (aka “Virginia”) to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds. Sean Quirk sends us the first of two dispatches from the trail. 

It’s 11 A.M. on a blistering, rainy Sunday morning as Columbia Democratic foot soldiers get a pep talk under Quality Inn’s dark green awning.  “’Change we can believe in’ was not just a slogan,” Jonathan Backer yells to his fellow Columbia Democrats.  “Change cannot come with one candidate.”

Fall break is no break for the Columbia University College Democrats.  The year’s annual campaign trip brought over 40 Columbia University students to marvelous Manassas, Virginia—home of the first major battle of the Civil War and Barack Obama’s last major speech of the 2008 presidential campaign. The Columbia Democrats were also here in Manassas last year to witness that speech after working in McLean, Virginia, to get out the vote for Obama. But this is not 2008, and Barack Obama is unfortunately not a candidate this time around.  The fight is now for the governorship, a far tougher prospect.

“Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m a volunteer with the Creigh Deeds campaign,” says the Columbia Dem as a middle-aged man in a bathrobe opens the door.  “I just wanted to remind you to vote and find out if you will be supporting Deeds this Tuesday in the governor’s race.” He responds, “Deeds who?”  

Creigh (pronounced “Cree”) Deeds’ fight for the governorship is an uphill battle in Virginia’s post-Obama climate. His opponent, Bob McDonnell, is perhaps best known outside the start for a thesis he wrote in college about the danger of working women, homosexuality, and abortions to America, all stances that make motivating the Columbia troops a little bit easier.  But Obama’s apparent inability to single-handedly save the world in 10 months has diminished the high hopes many Virginians had for the President when the majority of the state voted for him last year.  Deeds must persuade Virginians to believe in the Democratic Party once again.

That day’s campaigning began at 10 A.M., as Columbia Democrats’ lead activists ran around the motel waking up students.  We gathered in the motel’s “dining room,” i.e., small eating closet, for “bagels,” i.e., holed supermarket bread.  After Jonathan’s pep talk, we were in three 15-person vans driving off from the Quality Inn towards our assigned locations. Then we picked up our canvass lists, suppressed our elitist urban personas, and began the neighborhood invasions. My fellow carpetbaggers and I knocked on thousands of doors to encourage likely Democrats to vote for Deeds, returning late in the day exhausted, but a little more hopeful.

Whether Deeds can pull it out, though, remains to be seen. Inside Virginia, the verdict on McDonnell is a little less defined, as most voters seem to be focusing on economic rather than social policy.  Indeed, forty-eight percent of Northern Virginians believe transportation is the most important issue facing the area, a D.C. metropolitan region with constant congestion issues. And Deeds is polling far behind McDonnell as we struggle to make previous Obama fanatics understand the importance of Tuesday’s election. Nevertheless, the Columbia Democrats left our ivory tower to come down south and defend the ground Democrats have gained in the last decade.  And we won’t be leaving without a fight.