Virginia Democrats today stuck to a tried-and-true formula for winning. In their three-way gubernatorial primary, they said no to a national figure with close Clinton ties and a liberal with a brother in Congress.

Instead, they overwhelmingly picked state Sen. Creigh Deeds -- a moderate whose manner is the opposite of flamboyant. If that sounds like Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and his predecessor, Democrat Mark Warner, well, why mess with a good thing?

Deeds sailed past Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman with Clinton connections and a personality often described as over-caffeinated, and Brian Moran, a former legislative leader who presented himself as the only true liberal in the race.

Both are longtime residents of densely populated Northern Virginia and had expected to do well there. Moran's advantages even included Rep. Jim Moran, his well-known brother. But Deeds, a rural legislator who supports gun rights, cleaned up in the region -- including the counties that Moran and McAuliffe call home.

An hour and a half after the polls closed, McAuliffe issued prepared remarks in which he congratulated Deeds, attacked Republican nominee Bob McDonnell and talked about how hard he'll work to elect Deeds. It's the same type of quick pivot McAuliffe made after Hillary Clinton, whose presidential campaign he chaired, lost a prolonged nomination battle last year to Barack Obama.

So what have we learned here?

Virginia Democrats showed once again that they are not enamored of the Clintons. Hillary Clinton lost the Virginia primary to Obama by 28 points. This year, Bill Clinton repeatedly campaigned and raised money for McAuliffe -- to no avail. Maybe the state has more Clinton fatigue than most because it's close to Washington, has many residents who work there, and they have long, unpleasant memories of the impeachment ordeal. Whatever the reason, there's no love lost.

Celebrities and money don't mean much. McAuliffe outraised Deeds and Moran by millions and built a huge organization throughout the state. Again, to no avail. His guest campaigners, beyond Clinton, included hip hop artist and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. No sale.

Democratic voters are practical. McDonnell, who recently stepped down as state attorney general, is an appealing candidate. He's going to be hard to beat in a state that, despite a string of Democratic victories, is still wavering between the two parties.

Deeds, who lost the 2005 attorney general race to McDonnell by fewer than 400 votes, convinced Democrats he'd best him in a rematch. Some liberals were willing to compromise to get a potential winner. If they were turned off by Deeds' support for gun rights, they could take solace in his support for abortion rights. And his unpopular vote for a gas tax hike to improve roads in Northern Virginia had to win him points there.

The most surprising development of the race may be its suggestion that newspapers are still relevant. Deeds was clumped with the other two in polls until he got an unexpected and very strong endorsement from The Washington Post. He adapted his schedule and advertising to capitalize on that in Northern Virginia, where the paper circulates.

Within days, polls showed Deeds surging to double-digit leads over his two rivals. Tonight he finished with nearly half the vote.

"You and I sure surprised a lot of people tonight!" he said in an e-mail to supporters. And that's a true fact.