In the 13 months since Kaine entered the race, the two campaigns have combined to raise and spend millions of dollars, outside groups have poured cash into television ads and Allen has reinforced his position as the Republican front-runner against a handful of challengers. Yet none of those developments has budged the basic narrative — two titans of Virginia politics battling to a draw in a state widely viewed as swing territory, both in the Senate and presidential contests.
Kaine, who served as President Obama’s handpicked Democratic National Committee chairman, might benefit from the fact that Obama holds a seven-point lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, in Virginia and will drive turnout among liberals and African Americans.
Yet the new poll
includes some negative trends for Kaine: Registered voters are now equally divided in their impression of him, with 41 percent apiece viewing the Democrat favorably and unfavorably. A year ago, Kaine’s rating was 2 to 1 positive, at 57 to 28 percent.
Kaine’s decline could be the partial result of negative ads that have aired against him in the state and efforts by Republicans to link him to health-care reform, the stimulus package and other controversial Obama administration policies.
Although his popularity is down across the board, Kaine actually suffered the steepest fall among people planning to support Obama in November. His favorability rating dropped 20 percentage points among that group, even though Kaine has not broken with Obama on any high-profile issues recently. The percentage of non-white respondents viewing Kaine unfavorably climbed 17 points, and his decline in popularity has been pronounced among lower-income voters and those without college degrees.
But the overall portion of registered voters saying they planned to cast their ballot for Kaine hasn’t moved a bit, including among Obama supporters, indicating that backers of the president aren’t planning to abandon the Senate candidate in November.
Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said he had long assumed that for Allen to win, the Republican nominee would need to capture Virginia, while Kaine could potentially scrape out a victory even if Obama lost narrowly. So Rothenberg was taken aback by the fact that Kaine runs behind Obama in the new poll.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Rothenberg said. “It’s a surprise, and, frankly, it’s counterintuitive.”