I was ruminating on the ascent of Creigh Deeds, and a little lightbulb exploded in my head…and it occurred to me that but for one terrible life turn, the Commonwealth would likely have been spared both Tim Kaine and Creigh Deeds.
I refer, of course, to the untimely passing of Emily Couric.
Emily Couric defeated Ed Robb in 1995 and quickly developed a loyal following in the Democratic Party. Following her reelection in 1999 she made it clear she would be a candidate for the Dem nomination for Lt. Gov in 2001, and her popularity was such that most pundits saw her getting the nomination unopposed.
Then lightning struck. Senator Couric was diagnored with pancreatic cancer came in July 2000. While she took on the co-chairmanship of the State Democratic party, she gave up her LTgov candidacy. Senator Couric died in October 2001.
With her withdrawal the LG field opened wide, and the Mayor of Richmond became a player. He was little known outside the city. He became mayor by virtue of winning a ward election to the City Council and then being tagged by his council members to be mayor. The Mayor leveraged that small base, won a plurality primary, got a weak GOP opponent in the fall, and emerged as Lt Governor of Virginia-and four years later permanently dropped “The Mayor” in favor of a different title…”The Gov”. As you know, this is the story of Tim Kaine’s rise to power.
Meanwhile, back in Central/Western Virginia, they held a special election to determine who would succeed the late Senator Couric. Waldo Jaquith tells the story:
In 2001, after Sen. Emily Couric’s death, a special election was held to determine who would fill out her term. The 25th senate district contains Charlottesville, of course, so we knew that we could just select a nominee from among ourselves. The folks we expected stepped up to vie for the nomination: former Mayor Nancy O’Brien, City Councilor Meredith Richards, Al Weed…plus some delegate from Bath County (wherever that is), Creigh Deeds. We held the nominating convention in Charlottesville one Saturday morning, for which it was pretty clear that a woman was going to win, it was just a question of which one. But then we arrived that morning. Del. Deeds had filled a whole bus with folks from Alleghany, Bath, Buckingham, Buena Vista, Covington, and Rockbridge (not a single one of which any of us Charlottesville muckity-mucks could have picked out on a map.) He had slick-looking brochures, palm cards, and stickers. None of our candidates were even close. When we went into the balloting process, damned if that Deeds fellow didn’t lick everybody in the first round of voting, getting a majority of votes on the first ballot. He knew that the voting would be weighted by municipality, he knew how to campaign—not the deal-cutting like in Charlottesville, but really campaign—and he sure knew how make folks underestimate him. We never saw him coming, but we sure adopted him as one of our own real quick. Just a few weeks later he licked his Republican opponent in a landslide victory…
As you know, two days ago that same Creigh Deeds won the Democratic nomination to succeed Tim Kaine.
In my lifetime Virginia has often had its political waters roiled by an untimely passing. Sarge Reynolds death from cancer gave Henry Howell his shot at Lt. Gov and then Governor and accelerated the movement of conservative Democrats to the GOP. Rick Obenshains death in 1978 allowed John Warner to run (and win) in that year’s senate race.
Death has played in other races. Strom Thurmond went to the Senate when he did and the way he did by virtue of the truly untimely death of the incumbent SC US Senator. Jean Carnehan went to the Senate in 2001 after her husband died in a plane crash while running against (and eventually defeating from the grave) John Ashcroft.
Death has been a player in politics for years. But these other deals were one-off successions or driven by ideology. You don’t often see a political death having a direct impact on the make up of statewide tickets almost ten years after the event took place.
Thus endeth today’s history lesson…