Before Republicans get too excited about a poll showing Ed Gillespie trailing Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) by only six points (44 percent to 38 percent) consider most polls have shown Warner up by about 20 points, the poll is Republican and was automated, and it attempts to screen “likely” voters, which is hard to do nine months before an election. So take it with a grain of salt.
And yet . . . Jonathan Collegio of American Crossroads says that “it’s entirely possible” the race is this close. “So many Democrats are weak right now, and Warner’s support is a mile wide and inch deep,” he argues.
Let’s say the margin is even double that (12 points). That doesn’t suggest a race in which the incumbent’s lead is rock solid or that his popularity is more than skin deep. It suggests, as the Gillespie team has argued, that Warner is a candidate who hasn’t ever really been tested, running in a year in which most every Democrat should be nervous. If nothing else, the Warner team should be concerned if he really is below 50 percent in approval (47 percent) and not at 50 percent in a head-to-head match-up.
The dilemma for Warner is three-fold. First, to the degree he decides to try to distance himself from President Obama, he not only has to explain his voting record, but also must worry that the liberal base, including African American voters whom he will have to turn out, may not be pleased with that tactic. Second, Warner has a real problem sustaining his image as a moderate. Polifact finds: “Gillespie says Warner ‘voted for nearly $1 trillion in new taxes and $7 trillion in new debt.’ Although some economists might quibble with his debt figure, we don’t. We rate his statement True.” Third, while Warner may have a tough race there are many more Democrats with much bigger problems. Warner therefore shouldn’t count on a whole lot of support from Democratic donors, nor does he want to bring the president into the state, where Obama is likely to turn off at least as many voters as he induces to vote for Warner.
I don’t want to underestimate the task ahead of Gillespie. But those who said the race would not be competitive should be reassessing the race. It is entirely possible, as Collegio puts it, that “this race could end up being a barn burner.” And if Mark Warner has a fight on his hands, what does this say about the seven Democrats — all of whom voted for Obamacare — who have to run in states (West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska) that Mitt Romney carried in 2012?