The Republican National Committee staff swallowed hard, wiped away a tear and got to work on trying to come up with a reason why Virginians should not elect state Senator Creigh Deeds as their next governor.

The RNC had been planning to pour all its energy into defeating former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe in the off-year contest. And the project might have succeeded.

McAuliffe had only a tenuous tie to Virginia — few knew he lived in the state before he entered the Democratic primary to replace outgoing Governor Tim Kaine. On the other hand, he was firmly tied to just about everything Americans dislike about politics — big money, situational ethics, the wheeling and dealing of the Clinton years.

But the Republicans didn’t get McAuliffe who, despite big money and name recognition, barely pulled a quarter of the vote in Tuesday’s primary.

Deeds, who came within a whisker of winning a statewide race for attorney general four years ago and who this year benefited from an enthusiastic endorsement by the Washington Post, which circulates widely in the Democratic counties of northern Virginia, swept the race with 50 percent.

(The remainder of the vote went to Brian Moran, the brother of Congressman Jim Moran, whose campaign to rally Democratic voters in the vote-rich suburbs of Washington took a blow when the Post backed Deeds.)

The Deeds win was bad, bad news for a Grand Old Party that has not been having a grand time at the polls in recent election cycles.

Deeds, a moderate Democrat with a rural base and more than 15 years experience in the state legislature, has a track record as a reformer that will position him as a strong contender in November.

How strong?

All the Republicans could come up with to attack him with Tuesday night was a limp release lampooning the Democratic nominee in one of two gubernatorial races that will take place this fall — the other is in New Jersey — as “Creigh Who?”

Whew!

What a body blow!

Presumably the next RNC statement will offer a witty pun: “Deeds Not Words” or, perhaps, “Bad Deeds.”

Even by the low standards of a party tha is struggling to identify themes — and to hold on in Virginia, a state that has been trending Democratic for more than a decade — this is weak material.

That hardly means that Virginia’s race is finished. The fractured state party’s nominee, Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, is the guy who beat Deeds four years ago — by 323 votes in a contested election. The McDonnell-Deeds race will be intense — especially if Republicans get their message act together.

But there can be no question that for the Virginia (and national) Democrats — even those Democrats who don’t know Deeds all that well, or who don’t agree with him on all the issues — the fact that they won’t have to spend this election season trying to make excuses for Terry McAuliffe can only be read as good news.