Political Animal


May 03, 2012 5:44 PM Battleground Virginia

By Ed Kilgore

When Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008 (by a healthy six percentage points, nearly his national margin), alarm bells went off in many Republican strategic circles. After all, the Old Dominion had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, spurning southerners like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton even in good years for the Donkey Party. Since Democrats also held both U.S. Senate seats and had won the previous two gubernatorial races, it was obviously time to revisit the assumption the state was part of a Solid Republican South (except, of course, for Florida and also North Carolina, where Obama’s victory was even more of a shock).

So there were many sighs of Republican relief when Bob McDonnell handily won the governorship back for the GOP easily in 2009, and then Republicans picked off three U.S. House seats in 2010. Things, it seemed were returning to normal.

Or maybe not. The RealClearPolitics average of recent general election polls in Virginia shows Obama with a 2.4% lead in the state; the most recent survey, by PPP, has Obama up by eight points. The Senate race between former Gov. and DNC chairman Tim Kaine and former Sen. George Allen is, and has been, dead even. And looking ahead, an early PPP poll of the 2013 governor’s race in Virginia shows Democratic Sen. Mark Warner stomping everyone in sight if he chooses to return to Richmond.

If Mark Warner wants to be the next Governor of Virginia…he’s probably going to be the next Governor of Virginia. PPP’s newest poll finds him blowing away the Republican field of candidates with a 53-33 lead over Ken Cuccinelli, a 53-32 advantage over Bill Bolling, and a 58-19 edge over Tareq Salahi.
Warner continues to be the state’s most popular politician with a 52% approval rating to only 26% of voters who disapprove of him. He takes 13-29% of the Republican vote in these three match ups while losing only 2-4% of the Democratic vote, and he has a persistent double digit lead with independents as well. At this point the office looks to be Warner’s for the taking.

Even more worrisome for the GOP is the fact that in the PPP survey conservative darling Cuccinnelli has a large lead over the potential primary field, yet looks exceptionally weak for a general election even if Warner doesn’t run. Cucinelli trails Terry McAuliffe by five points and Tom Perriello by three, despite a gigantic name ID advantage.

So any way you slice it, Virginia remains a battleground state, and a big vulnerability in the southern fortress the GOP had supposedly built for itself. Obama can definitely win in November without Virginia, but it’s not at all clear Mitt Romney can do so as well.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • exlibra on May 04, 2012 12:27 AM:

    Cucinelli trails Terry McAuliffe by five points and Tom Perriello by three, despite a gigantic name ID advantage. -- Ed Kilgore

    "Despite"??? It's "because", not "despite"' Ken the Cuckoo is a Rick Santorum wannabe without the charisma.

    I don't much like Warner as my Senator, and would be happy for him to try for another Gov run; he's much better as an executive than as one of a team of a 100. And would *love* to see Tom Periello replace him in the Senate. Periello is no Sanders or even Franken, but is as solid a Dem as is possible to be in VA (and still get elected to office). And the man has guts -- a piece of equipment I often find sadly missing in many Dems in my adopted state.

  • Basilisc on May 04, 2012 3:22 AM:

    Why would Warner want to go back to Richmond? He'd spend his time wrangling about spending cuts and highway projects, turn a safe Dem Senate seat into a tossup, and have to look for another job again in 4 yrs. Isn't being a US Senator - lots of prestige and job security, no actual responsibility - one of the best jobs in the world?

  • bob h on May 04, 2012 6:23 AM:

    How smart is the Federal worker bashing the Republicans engage in in a state with so many of them?

  • bluestatedon on May 04, 2012 8:15 AM:

    I would love to see Kookinelli run for US Senator.

  • Kathryn on May 04, 2012 9:30 AM:

    Been told by local elected Dem that Warner hates the Senate, for what it's worth. I think Cucunelli has already announced that he's running, he has a devoted right wing religious following, a very scary guy. Give Cucunelli a Republican comtrolled legislature and he could turn this Commonwealth into Mississippi before the end of his first year in office. There is something very chilling about right wing Cathollkcs like Cucunelli, Santorum and Scalia, no offense to Catholics in general intended, just the extremists.

    Personally, I'd like to see Terry McAuliffe, though Warner would be good too.

  • Hopley Yeaton on May 04, 2012 2:51 PM:

    Don't worry about Cuccinnelli. President Romney will appoint him to the Supreme Court right after he put Paul Clement there.

  • ottovbvs on May 04, 2012 2:59 PM:

    RCP have a map up showing the current state of play with definite Dem and Dem leaning states that puts Obama at I think 17 votes short of the magic number. There are about ten toss ups of which VA is one. Romney's certs and leaning are one hundred votes short of the magic number. I'm not claiming he's a shoo in by any means but absent some seismic shift or the start of some magic love affair with Romney it's really hard to see how he gets beaten. I've little doubt he's going to carry VA where the local Republicans have completely shot themselves in the foot.

  • Frank Smith on May 04, 2012 3:02 PM:

    Dream on, Ed! Virginia is no more a swing state than North Carolina. Democrats had extraordinary political conditions in 2008, the best since 1964. Things have changed. The swing states for 2012 are PA, WI, MI, IA and maybe OH. Obama has a tough reelection campaign ahead of him!

  • What's the Matter With Arlington? on May 04, 2012 3:22 PM:

    University graduates and 20 and 30-something professionals (mostly Yankees) who work in DC move into Northern Virginia because they want to pay less taxes than they would have to if they lived in DC or Maryland, and then for some reason vote for people who will raise their taxes. Mind boggling. If one combines this with people of every age working for the behemoth that is the Federal Government (obviously some overlap) and it isn't surprising that Virginia is becoming Democrat-territory.

  • Bill Levergood on May 04, 2012 3:23 PM:

    There eas just a poll out last week that had Romney up a point here in VA. Not saying it will be easy but we're still six months out.

  • Matt on May 04, 2012 3:25 PM:

    Shouldn't the author of this article have mentioned that PPP is tied to the national Democratic party? On realclearpolitics.com, PPP is designated with a (D) to denote this affiliation.

    Virginia will not be decided by six points either way this election, it is a toss-up and my guess will remain so throughout the campaign.

  • Bill Levergood on May 04, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Watch Loudon County on election night. Obama won big here in 08, but the GOP cleaned the Dems clock here in 2010. All the way down to our County Board which was almost all Democrat is now all Republican.

  • Econ Guy on May 04, 2012 3:32 PM:

    A PPP poll? You are kidding Ed!!! Nice try! You libs actually think Missouri is a toss-up State as well.It isn't. The current Senator McCaskill (D) is losing to THREE different challengers at this point and McCain beat Obama by a small margin here in 2008. Obama will never get the votes he had in 2008. Missouri's 11 votes will go Romney no problem.

  • Matt F on May 04, 2012 3:37 PM:

    The fact that Cuccinelli is polling poorly (in a PPP survey -- HA!) has nothing to do with the political climate in Virginia in the generic sense. Cuccinelli is wildly unpopular, and rightly so. He is a hasty idealogue, and he has done more harm than good for the GOP. (I am a registered GOP voter, btw.) Virginia might be in play for the 2012 general, but I don't think that the gubernatorial election is evidence that Virginia is now a swing state. It's got more to do with the individual candidates.

    Obama grabbed the young vote and the NoVa vote in 2008, and he was able to persuade inner city blacks to actually register and vote in large numbers. I would be surprised if he can pull it off again. McDonnell is very popular, and he has been very successful for Virginia. I really hope that Romney taps him for VP.

  • Vivienne Lynn on May 04, 2012 3:38 PM:

    You are entitled to your opinion Ed. I think 2012 will be more like 2010.. A very hard year for liberal dems....Looking forward to voting for Mitt in NOv..

    Obama is a total disaster... wake up and smell the roses.

  • AnybodyButChicagoDemocrats on May 04, 2012 3:42 PM:

    There are many reasons I expect Obama to lose this election...but one I don't see discussed very much is his CREEP(Committee for the RE-Election of the President in Chicago. They have a tremendous amount of money and organization plus the best technology money can buy...and yet they keep being snookered by the Republicans everytime they try to push forward wedge issues. Obama's endorsement of the "Occupiers," the "Faux Republican War on Women and getting into the "Mommy Wars," the "spiking the ball" as far as Bin Laden, has turned off the voters who will decide this election...the Moderate Independents.

    Now we have the fiasco in China with Mr. Chen which only shows the ineptness of the administration and most especially since they are in lockstep, CREEP.

    They will continue with their strategy of "Distract, Distort, and Divide." They must think because they fooled the people once (2008) they can do it again...I don't think so!!! As Winston Churchill said about Americans..."You can always expect Americans to do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other alternatives." The "right thing" here is Romney, the alternative is obviously Obama and CREEP.

  • J. on May 04, 2012 3:42 PM:

    Things ARE returning to normal. Throw out those heavily biased liberal polls and just look at the '10 and '11 elections. Romney +5 or +6 in November.

  • Xera on May 04, 2012 3:51 PM:

    Romney will lose VA with all his federal government bashing, and with it the election. He cannot win without the state. You can take that to the bank!

  • Anonymous on May 04, 2012 3:53 PM:

    6 months is a long time in politics. Obama hasn't yet had responsibility thrust upon him for the shoddy economy. Mitt has yet to drive that home, and Romney will most likely do so in the debates- he won't fall prey to fringe issues like Santorum would have.

    When people start to examine why they should re-elect Obama and also see Romney as a competent moderate, I think you are going to see a drop in the incumbent's poll numbers. I'd be willing to put money down that VA goes Republican. And that guy who said that MO is mistakenly being called a swing state is right on. MO did not vote for Obama in 2008, and he is not going to have the luxuries he had in the previous election.

  • bflat879 on May 04, 2012 3:54 PM:

    The Republicans aren't in trouble anywhere and the ability of the press to make it look that way is diminishing. It's beginning to look like the Democrats so overplayed their hand, since 2009, it's going to be a long road for them to comeback. All their assumptions about the people loving their legislation, their not being able to pass budgets, and the pitiful leadership they've displayed cost them dearly in 2010 and they learned nothing from that so, my guess is, more of the same in 2012.

  • bij on May 04, 2012 3:59 PM:

    keep hearing about changing demographics in VA How real is this?

  • JC on May 04, 2012 4:03 PM:

    I live in NoVa and know numerous people who voted for Obama that vehemently say "never again". They have verbalized a "bait and switch" feeling about Obama. I don't know a single McCain voter that will vote for Obama this time, especially friends in Loudoun County. That's the "wealthiest" county in the US and they don't appreciate this class warfare thing.

  • ScottinVA on May 04, 2012 4:08 PM:

    The author cites the most recent WP poll that shows Obama up by 7%. However, when reading the numbers, the poll fails to show the sampling figures. How many dems vs. GOPers vs. indies? One internal showed blacks supporting Obama 97% to 1%. Really now? I have a hard time believing black voters are that monolithic even for Obama.

  • ScottinVA on May 04, 2012 4:11 PM:

    Correction... PPP poll, which oversamples dems. The WP poll, which Kilgore doesn't mention, doesn't show its internals.

  • UncleFred on May 04, 2012 4:16 PM:

    Rather than taking the RCP average at face value, one should look into the poll's internals. Among the polls that indicated an Obama lead, those that publish their demographic weightings, or publish sufficient internal results by sub group, this exercise demonstrates weightings that over sample Democrats at the expense of independents and Republicans. In some cases they also over sample the 18-29 age group at the expense of others. Generally in these polls Obama trails Romney among independents, and they show comparable support from their parties. Obama leads only because of the sampling assumptions.

    Now perhaps those samples, which closely resemble the 2008 exit polling, accurately reflect the make up of the Virginian electorate, and more specifically the portion of the electorate who will vote in November, but the 2009 and 2010 results certainly raise the possibility that these demographic assumptions are wrong.

  • David B. on May 04, 2012 4:33 PM:

    Governor Ultrasound is ensuring that Obama carries VA in November. So much for the "small government" we were promised by the tea party.

  • kevin on May 04, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Ed. you do realize the PPP poll for the Virginia Governor race uses a 2008 sample of 39 Democrat, 32 Republican.

    In 2009, the year of the last Governor race, the split was GOP 37 and Democrats 33.

    That is a +5 difference for GOP and a -6 difference for democrats.

    You journalist really need to start analyzing the polls. Most are using 2008 voter turnout ratios.

  • Xera on May 04, 2012 5:09 PM:

    It's hilarious how the posters here are bashing polling that they don't agree with, but then agreeing with the polls that show Romney doing better. Either polling is useful or it's not, you can't have it both ways. Oh wait, if you're a Romney supporter, you have to take every side of the issue, so carry on. Romney would be proud.

  • Mark in Seattle on May 04, 2012 5:27 PM:

    Romney does need Virginia to win, unless he gets awfully lucky in a state like PA, which is doubtful.

    But I wouldn't trust RCP Electoral College map. I mean, they rate Arizona as a tossup, which is laughable. The other more reliable and reputable predictors (Cook, Rothenberg, Sabato), who consistently outpredict RCP, ALL rate Arizona as SAFE GOP (not even leans or likely GOP). The Dems are simply not going to win AZ. The race is currently very close, with Obama narrowly ahead on the strength of VA and OH -- and that's about it. If OH and VA flip, Romney moves to the front.

  • Yeppers on May 04, 2012 7:28 PM:


    I'm not sure how you can say that if OH and VA flip, then Romney moves to the front.

    Basically, as things stand now here are Obama's path to victory:

    1. NH, Colorado, and Iowa.
    2. Virginia and Iowa or Colorado.
    3. North Carolina and Iowa, Colorado, or NH
    4. Ohio
    5. Florida

    Romney, on the other hand absolutely must carry Ohio and Florida. He also must win one of NH, Colorado, and Iowa. He also probably will need to win Virginia and North Carolina.

    Funny thing is, current polling has Obama ahead in every one of those states.

  • Charles Johns on May 04, 2012 8:10 PM:

    It's only May. Obama's poll numbers have ranged from 41 to 52 approval since March 1st. Last Sept/Oct, his approval numbers ranged from 37 to 45. These numbers go hand in hand w/jobs. There were 115k jobs in April vs. 217k last April. Bad news for Obama, last May-25k jobs, June-48k jobs, Oct-80k jobs. Only going to get worse from now until Nov for Obama. No way Virginia will vote for Obama again.

  • poncho on May 04, 2012 8:50 PM:

    PPP and the Washington Post over sample Democrats for their polls. Virginia will probably go for Rommney this fall. No wonder you will be heart-broken.

  • Charles Johns on May 04, 2012 8:53 PM:

    AL,AK,AZ,AR,GA,ID,IN,KS,KY,LA,MO,MS,MT,NE,ND,OK,SC,SD,TN,TX,UT,WV,WY=191 electoral votes. Romney will carry these no problem. Also, no way Romney loses NC or VA-gets you to 219. Add FL,OH,gets Romney to 266. From there only need any one of IA,CO or NV.
    By the time Nov rolls around with this economy, the swing states will be PA,WI,NM,NV,CO. All the rest will be pretty solid Republican. If Romney wins them all, he will be at 322.

  • Gail on May 04, 2012 11:53 PM:

    So speaks a Democrat, what a surprise.

  • Jimmy on May 05, 2012 4:52 AM:

    Romney doesnt really need VA all though it would be nice

    He has to carry FL and OH, hes already in the margin there

    He should easily take back NC

    I dont understand the polling in NV. high unemployment and a decent Mormon population, Romney should take that

    Then it will come down to WI, CO, or VA.

    WI might end up being the easiest if Walker wins big in the recall and Ryan is the VP pick

    That gives him 269 and then NH to win

  • JimBeam on May 05, 2012 7:05 AM:

    The key numbers to look at now are Obama's poll numbers and his approval rating. Romney's poll numbers are largely irrelevant.

    Obama's approval rating is at about 48% and his poll numbers are around 47%. This election is going to be close.

    Romney takes FL, OH, IA, NC. Obama takes, MI, WI, NM, NV and PA, although PA will be closer than people think.

    This leaves CO, NH, and VA. Whoever wins 2 out of the 3 is the next President.

  • JimBeam on May 05, 2012 7:25 AM:

    N.C. - The planets had to align for Obama to narrowly beat McCain in 2008. Since then, most of the N.C. Democratic Party has been indicted it seems, from John Edwards to former Gov. Mike Easley. Current Gov. Bev Perdue is highly unpopular and is not seeking re-election. Several prominent Democrats are not seeking re-election due to redistricting, and the state party is a mess.

    It won't be a blowout, but N.C. is definitely NOT a swing state. Romney by 5.

    Virginia - Will an anti-federal government message play in the DC suburbs? Virginia was a conservative Southern state, but big government is big business here, and the state has a significant black population. Polls are all over the map.

    Going to be close.

    Florida - Generally a Republican state, but not overwhelmingly so. Obviously a must-win for Romney, but I think he'll do it. Obama is polling terribly here and Romney is the kind of Republican who should do well in Florida, as he did in the primaries.

    The media will try to make Florida a race, but it isn't. Romney by 3.

  • John on May 05, 2012 7:35 AM:

    I find it somewhat silly to read the comments whining about the use of a PPP poll in one article when RCP uses Rasmussen on a daily basis. For every 1 Dem affiliated poll out in blogland theres at least 5 that are unabashedly right leaning so quit whining and use your own judgement about whether or not you want to listen to or close your mind to the opinions of those not politically allied with your thought processes.

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