| As the Democratic candidate with the strongest roots in Virginia, State Senator Creigh Deeds' decision to skip the Old Dominion's biggest political tradition, next week's Shad Planking, seems a bit odd. Instead, he will spend it touring areas of far Southwest Virginia that have gotten little attention in this year's primary season. His supporters hailed it as "Shunning Shad, Valuing Voters."
On an absolute voter contact and persuasion level, it's a good call by Team Deeds. Virginia's chattering class has either already set their hearts on one of the candidates, or is sticking to a pledge of neutrality. Indulge me briefly as I misappropriate some foreign policy buzzwords. We can safely say that Deeds is going to win campaign "hard power" that day--direct voter contact. Shad Planking, though, carries quite a bit of political "soft power" that could enhance his campaign indirectly, and simply disappearing could be damaging.
Blithely skipping the Shad Planking makes Creigh Deeds invisible. Ever since Terry McAuliffe entered the race, Deeds has had to fight off the perception that he's the third candidate. He will get no face time in the nightly news, he will get no mention in the morning papers, and the collected cognoscenti at Wakefield will be content to declare his campaign dead.
In 2006, Jim Webb won the sign war by an overwhelming margin. His primary opponent, Harris Miller, had nothing except a pair of aides tailing him with signs mounted on sticks. By itself, such a pathetic showing swayed no votes. However, it fed into a perception that the Miller campaign was impotent, and invisible. Coupled with other events, it helped send the Miller campaign to oblivion.
Creigh Deeds will win more votes that day by talking to actual voters--but at the cost of media attention and, most importantly, visibility. He just has to hope that by not even showing up, his campaign won't be tagged with the unshakable perception that he's completely invisible.