The Democratic primary for governor of Virginia, which takes place on June 9, has been a pretty nasty affair from Day One. At a February fundraising dinner, Democratic candidates Creigh Deeds, Brian Moran, Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Bob McDonnell (the current Attorney General) came together for an ostensibly friendly roast.

After telling a joke about Deeds’ donkey, Truman, McAuliffe referred to Brian Moran’s media consultant, Joe Trippi, as an "ass." He said Trippi had come up to him at The Palm one day and offered to help with his race. "I said to him, ‘You really want to help me? That’s what you want to do? You want to help me, Joe? Great. Go work for Brian and go do for him what you did for President Dean and President Edwards."

From the audience Moran yelled, "How’s President Hillary Clinton?"

That exchange pretty much sums up the primary so far. McAuliffe–the former head of the DNC, campaign chairman for Hillary and best friend to Bill–has spent his rivals into the ground and touted his "outsider" credentials, a bit of a shocker given his background as the consummate Washington insider.

Moran–a longtime delegate from Northern Virginia and brother of Congressman Jim Moran–has attacked McAuliffe over his ties to big business and for campaigning against Barack Obama. Deeds, a delegate from rural Bath County, has largely laid low and now has an ad out touting his recent Washington Post endorsement, meant to appeal to increasingly populous NoVa.

McAuliffe had opened up a big lead in a race that hasn’t generated a whole lot of excitement, but now polls show a virtual dead heat. Moran’s advisers say their numbers have it tied, while other polls show either Deeds surging or McAuliffe barely holding onto his lead. The rancor between McAuliffe and Moran–which no doubt stems in part from the animosity between Terry and Trippi–may give Deeds, who lost to McDonnell by 323 votes in the 2005 attorney general’s race–the opening he needs.

Moran staked out the most progressive positions of the three during the primary–opposing a new coal-fired power plant and supporting a hike in the sales tax to improve Virginia’s transportation nightmare–but Deeds may have the best chance in a matchup against McDonnell, given the closeness of their past contest and his appeal in both the rural and urban sections of the state.

McAuliffe is a wild card. Many Democrats, myself included, didn’t think he’d make it out of the primary and still believe he’d get trounced in a general election. McDonnell will be a formidable opponent, a law-and-order conservative who plays to the base but can appeal to the broader populace in a demographically changing, politically diverse state. Democrats have won the last two governors races and the presidency, but Virginia is by no means (yet) a solidly blue state.