Salena Zito

Despite a push from the White House, Wilder is miles from endorsing Deeds. While McDonnell has made numerous calls on the former governor, Deeds will have his first meeting with Wilder sometime this week.

McDonnell is well-positioned as a state official. He beat Deeds for the attorney general’s job by about 300 votes in 2005, in what was a more favorable year for Democrats. (Hurricane Katrina had hit and wiped out Bush's approval ratings, just as the Iraq War’s unpopularity heated up and Social Security reform fell apart).

Obama’s 2008 victory in Virginia, while impressive, was many years in the making, built on demographic changes and the election of three Democrats – U.S. senators Mark Warner (also a former governor) and Jim Webb and Gov. Tim Kaine. They were successful because they built a new brand for Democrats, one that was fiscally responsible and focused on improving people’s lives rather than on divisive social issues.

That begs a question: With a healthy party brand and three popular Democrats in statewide leadership, why is Deeds languishing in the polls?

“Washington’s policies, plain and simple,” said Philip Charles, a retired D.C. firefighter from Front Royal, Va. “Obama’s charisma won this state last fall. His policies may cost his party a seat in the governor’s mansion this fall.”

Charles, another independent, is both under- and overwhelmed by what Congress has put on the table since January: “It is too much. People wanted change – well, they got it, and now they want to stop it.”

With its counter-cyclical election, Virginia is poised to serve as a check on government’s role in everyday life, its expansion and its spending.

Part of Deeds’ problem is that voters are exhausted after 2008’s “change” hype and discouraged because they don't feel that things are getting better – changing – fast enough.

The 2010 mid-term elections will hinge on the economy and on spending. Either the economy roars back and Democrats can claim they made the difference or 2010 could be another 1982, when Ronald Reagan took a mid-term hit because the economy had not yet pulled out of its recession.

One thing is certain: No way will the economy be better this November, when Virginia and New Jersey vote – and when it comes to the relationship between politics and the economy, jobs matter more than all other measures.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.