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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Looking weary and driven by the urgency of Tuesday’s nationally watched governor’s race, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell plunged into a dizzying 48-hour itinerary of statewide campaign rallies Sunday.

Both were in Hampton Roads, an area that has gone strongly for both Democrats and Republicans the past, to make closing arguments in a race that polls show strongly favors the GOP.

“Let me tell you, sleep is overrated,” Deeds told a few dozen activists and volunteers crowded into a third-floor campaign office in Virginia Beach.

Deeds told his backers that polls, including one published Sunday showing McDonnell ahead by 12 percentage points, mean nothing. He said volunteers can reach Democratic voters who made Barack Obama the first Democrat since 1964 to carry Virginia in a presidential race and get them to the polls.

Acknowledging the polls that portend a GOP sweep in his and two other statewide races, Deeds recalled what legendary Marine commander Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller said when surrounded by the enemy in Korea. “They’re in front of us, they’re behind us, they’re on our left and they’re on our right. We’ve got them right where we want them,” Deeds said.

A poll released Sunday showed 53 percent supported McDonnell, 41 percent supported Deeds and 6 percent were undecided. It generally tracked with other statewide polls during the past week.

The poll of 625 likely voters statewide Wednesday and Thursday was done by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for several Virginia newspapers. Its results were outside the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The outcome of governor’s races Tuesday in Virginia and New Jersey take on enhanced importance as the first voter verdicts on the performance of Obama and the Democratic Congress.

In Chesapeake earlier Sunday, McDonnell addressed a crowd of about 150 supporters, including dozens of home-schooled children from other states, giddy over polls indicating the first major Virginia GOP victory in nine years.

McDonnell breezed through talking points memorized months ago but stopped abruptly when his curiosity about one supporter’s sign that read “Chuck Norris Likes Bob McDonnell” proved irresistible.

“I’ve just got to ask that young man in the back, does Chuck Norris really like me?” McDonnell said, his non sequitur evoking laughter. “It’s a great sign. It’s just that I never met him.”

McDonnell and state Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, his GOP ticket mate in the attorney general’s race, said Tuesday would constitute a resounding rejection Democratic policies including health care reform, energy, the stimulus programs and stalled legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

“I hear the Democrats are getting so desperate that they’re thinking of flying Tim Kaine into the state,” Cuccinelli said, a dig at the incumbent governor’s frequent national travels in his role as Democratic National Committee chairman.

Kaine, who joined U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott in appearances with Deeds, reciprocated at Deeds’ rally, recalling a Senate floor speech when conservative Cuccinelli once called government “a necessary evil.”

“How can someone who is public school-educated, then went to (public) law school and now he’s on a public salary in the Senate stand up and say government is an evil?” Kaine said.

Kaine reminded those in the sweltering room that Democrats had been counted out before, including his own race in 2005 when he was outspent by Republican rival Jerry W. Kilgore and trailed in the polls much of the race.

“I didn’t have the polls and I didn’t have the pundits, but I had you guys,” he said.

Under sodden, rainy skies, workers for both sides prepared to knock on doors and make calls to targeted voters.

“An election doesn’t stop just because of a little rain,” said Kate Farr of Virginia Beach, who had canvassed door-to-door for the Democrats in a steady downpour Sunday afternoon and loaded up with new addresses and campaign brochures for a Sunday evening round.

In Chesapeake, 11-year-old Rose Supples, a home-schooled pupil from Northport, Fla., jumped up and down every time the crowd cheered McDonnell. She was among home-schoolers from several states who came to Virginia in van pools last week.

Asked why she had traveled so far, she beamed and said, “To get Republicans in office.”

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