- Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2009 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 23 September 2009 05:00
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Because Virginia is only one of two states in the nation electing their governor this year, it’s not surprising that we’re getting a little national attention.
However, this year this attention will probably be unprecedented. We are in a state that after 44 years of voting for Republicans for president, last year, weighed in with Barack Obama. Both sides, particularly now that the president’s popularity has dimmed a little, are looking at us for validation.
The Republicans desperately want a win in Virginia. If they won the Commonwealth, they could claim that it was a sign that their party was starting a come back.
The Democrats, for their part, have just as much riding on this race. Their prospects in New Jersey, the other state electing a governor this year, don’t look that good and they hope that by winning Virginia, something of a new prize, they could show that they’re holding their ground.
The proof that we’re being closely watched can be found in the number of public opinion polls that have been run on this race. While the campaigns routinely run a daily tracking poll, publicly available polls, the sorts you’ll see mentioned on TV and in the newspapers, are much less common. But not this year. If anything, we’re awash in polls. And what they’re showing isn’t that easy to sort out.
Going back to July, the McDonnell campaign was delighted with a Survey USA poll, a fairly credible polling outfit, which showed McDonnell with a 15-point lead. Even better news for the McDonnell campaign is that it showed their candidate with support above the 50 percent mark. This is always a good place to be, since it indicates that even if the undecideds went for your opponent, you would still win.
A few weeks later, this same polling organization showed the race narrowing to 13 points. However, in the past couple of weeks, in two recent polls, McDonnell’s lead has gotten much narrower. The Rasmussen Poll, which tests races all over the country, found McDonnell with a six-point lead. That’s still a sizable margin, but it did indicate that, perhaps, undecided voters were swinging toward his opponent, and that maybe he’d even lost a little support.
However, the poll that’s caused the most excitement — yes, in less than a week, yet another poll — is the Washington Post poll. The Post, which has an excellent record with its polling, still shows McDonnell breaking 50 percent, at 51 percent and Deeds with 46 percent. This is the first poll that has put Deeds within striking distance of McDonnell.
What the polling shows, and it’s been unusually intense, with so many polls released in just a week’s time, is that Deeds seems to securing his own base. In other words, Democrats, and voters who would normally vote Democratic, but were toying with the idea of voting for McDonnell, are coming home. The McDonnell Thesis, which refers to a graduate paper the Republican candidate wrote while he was at Regency University, has managed, to my surprise, to frighten these normally moderate to progressive voters. That’s not good news for the McDonnell campaign. It shows this long-ago paper, and his opponents ability to exploit it, has, what they call in Washington, “legs.”
But this begs one question: “What exactly does a winning coalition of voters in Virginia look like these days?” Do the old rules still apply?
Usually, to win, or at least this was the case in days gone by, a Democrat, like Deeds, would not only have to have the support of Democrats and independents, he would also have to bring along some Republicans. No successful Democratic candidate has been elected without at least some support from moderate Republicans.
However, at the moment, it seems that Deeds’ primary success has been in securing his own political base and shoring up support he desperately needs in Northern Virginia. They seem to think this is enough. But that may be premature.
Democrats, it seems, are hoping that in the Commonwealth they are the new majority. In other words, perhaps they believe that the demographics in Virginia have shifted so much that now they don’t need a strong Republican crossover vote. This may be true, and perhaps that’s what the polls are showing.
If the Deeds trend keeps up, who knows, maybe in a couple weeks there will be polls that put the Democrat in the lead in this race.
However, before too long, Deeds, who has at long last been kicking his campaign into high gear, needs to do more than just exploit his opponent’s mildly warped graduate thesis. He needs to start making a case for his candidacy.
If he did this, if he would firmly lay out ground on transportation, schools, even having the guts to say we might have to pay a bit more for better roads, then perhaps some of those moderates, often business people, might come over to his side. That would be encouraging.