Republican Robert F. McDonnell has claimed a clear early lead over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds in the race for Virginia governor, according to a new Washington Post poll.
Widespread criticism of the direction of a state run for the past eight years by Democrats and an increasingly GOP-friendly electorate have propelled McDonnell, who runs competitively even in the Democratic strongholds of Northern Virginia.
Less than three months before Election Day, the poll shows that relatively few Virginia voters are following the race closely, signaling that it could fluctuate considerably between now and November. Even fewer claim deep knowledge of McDonnell, the former attorney general, or Deeds, a state senator, who are vying to succeed Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). Most voters have not formed an opinion or say they are apt to change their minds.
McDonnell is favored over Deeds among all registered voters, 47 to 40 percent, and is up by an even steeper margin, 54 to 39 percent, among those who say they are certain to vote in November.
In vote-rich Northern Virginia, where President Obama and other successful Democrats have won large majorities, the two run about even, 45 percent for Deeds to 42 percent for McDonnell among all registered voters. Even in the innermost Washington suburbs — which the Democrat from rural Bath County won handily in his party’s primary — the candidates are running about even. McDonnell, who lives outside Richmond, leads by nine points in the rest of the state.
That last part is, I think, the most significant fact to come out of this poll. Over the past several years, the Democrats have ridden to victory largely on the back of a significant advantage in the Washington, D.C. suburbs; a phenomenon which spread even to traditionally Republican areas like Prince William and Loudoun counties in recent years. If McDonnell is able to cut into what had been a traditional Democratic stronghold like Northern Virginia come November, it would be the key to victory.
The issue breakdown is also interesting:
The economy is issue No. 1 in the campaign, with voters about evenly split between Deeds and McDonnell on dealing with it. Health care, which has dominated national politics for the past month, is the second most-frequently mentioned issue in the governor’s race, followed by education, transportation and taxes.
Northern Virginia’s traffic woes push transportation issues up the ladder to second place in that region. Voters in Northern Virginia give Deeds a six-point edge on handling road and transit issues, with a quarter expressing no opinion or trusting neither of the two candidates.
McDonnell has proposed paying for transportation fixes in part by privatizing the state’s liquor stores and adding tolls on some highways. Deeds has pledged to come up with a solution in his first year in office but has offered no funding plan and has been criticized for not saying whether he would raise taxes.
The poll shows that Virginians are split on which candidate would best handle the economy and other top issues, with large numbers undecided on who has the edge in dealing with transportation and abortion. McDonnell has an advantage on taxes and guns.
Personally, I’d be interested in knowing why voters in Northern Virginia might think that Creigh Deeds, who hails from one of the least populated counties in the state, where a traffic jam pretty much consists of one guy trying to make a left turn across a two-lane road, has a better handle on Northern Virginia’s traffic problems than Bob McDonnell. But, you know, sometimes there is no logical reason for things like this.
Aside from that, though, it’s clear that Bob McDonnell is pretty well situated as the campaign enters the Labor Day Weekend.