Virginia is both a key presidential battleground and the site of an ultra-competitive Senate race that could well decide which party wins the upper chamber majority. In both contests, Democrats appear to hold the high ground with just under seven weeks to go until Election Day.
Beginning with the presidential race, recent polling shows that President Obama is well positioned for the fall stretch run. He leads Mitt Romney 52 percent to 44 percent in a Washington Post poll released Tuesday, and 50 percent to 46 percent in a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/ CBS News poll released on Wednesday. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polling in the state shows Obama with a three-point advantage over Romney.
Drilling down into specific surveys, it's clear that Obama's standing has been boosted by strong support from women.
The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll shows Obama leading clearly among women, 54 percent to 42 percent. It's been enough to overcome deficits among independents (who favor Romney by 11 points in the poll) and men (who favor Romney by six points). In the Washington Post poll, the gap among women is even wider, with Obama leading 58 percent to 39 percent.
Earlier this year, a debate raged over a measure in the state legislature that would have required women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds before getting abortions. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) eventually backed off his support for it, and the back-and-forth was seen as a net political loss for Republicans, who were relentlessly targeted by Democrats and women's groups in the ensuing weeks and months.
In addition to the gap among women, polling in Virginia also shows distinct divides along lines of race and religion. "Racial polarization in the presidential election nationally is on display in Virginia, where blacks back the president 93 - 5 percent and whites go for Romney 57 - 39 percent," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown. "Looking at the subgroup of evangelical Christians who share similar religious beliefs, the president leads 93 - 6 percent among black evangelicals, while Romney leads among white evangelicals 78 - 17 percent."
It's not as if there has been a sudden shift in support toward Obama in Virginia. The president's four-point advantage in the Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll is the same as it was in early August, and Obama's lead among registered voters in the Washington Post poll is identical to what it was in May.
Why has the president been able to hold his advantage, even as GOP-aligned outside groups have begun to meddle more heavily? In addition to strong support from women, another possible explanation is the economy, boosted by the defense industry in the northern part of the state. In July, Virginia's unemployment rate was the 10th lowest in the country, and a couple of points below the national average. In the Washington Post poll, Obama's marks on the economy were better than they were nationally in the latest Washington-Post/ABC News poll.
Over in the Senate race, former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine has opened up a lead over former senator George Allen (R) in two new polls. A Washington Post survey released Wednesday shows Kaine leading 51 percent to 43 percent, a departure from previous surveys showing a tighter race. Kaine's support among women has grown since the spring, as has his support from seniors.
The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll showed Kaine leading 51 percent to 44 percent. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll showed a neck and neck race, which is more in line with most surveys taken during the year.
Allen has also tried to raise his appeal among women with his ads, but so far it hasn’t appeared to have worked as well as he'd like. Allen has also tried to make inroads on an issue that could resonate in the northern part of the state, which is mainly Democratic territory. He ran an ad this summer vowing to take a stand against automatic defense cuts due to kick in at the beginning of next year.
To be clear, neither Obama nor Kaine has put away the Virginia. Victories by Romney, Allen, or both remain very serious possibilities. But neither Democrat (and the fate of both are closely linked, considering how few crossover votes are expected) should be displeased with his standing at this late stage. And considering how crucial the state is in both the battle of the Senate and the race for the White House, that shouldn't be overlooked.