Allen’s rating is also now under 50 percent with voters, though with a smaller slide. His favorability has dipped from 52 to 47 percent in a year, and his unfavorability has inched up from 28 to 31 percent. Allen’s campaign has focused on presenting him as a fiscal conservative who will halt the burgeoning deficits of the Obama administration, while emphasizing Virginia’s strong economic performance during the Republican’s gubernatorial tenure.
But Kaine has sought to remind voters of Allen’s record as a senator, when he voted to raise the debt ceiling and for tax and spending policies that boosted the deficit.
Of more immediate importance, the new poll shows Allen is in a dominant position ahead of his June 12 Republican primary. Among likely primary voters, Allen gets 62 percent, Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William) gets 12 percent, former Virginia Tea Party Patriots head Jamie Radtke receives 5 percent and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson brings up the rear at 3 percent.
Though all three opponents have accused Allen of being insufficiently conservative, the former governor has no obvious weakness on his right flank. A big majority of self-identified conservatives call him “about right” ideologically, and he takes 68 percent of their votes in the primary.
Allen’s foes have been hurt by their lack of statewide name recognition — 57 percent of all respondents say they didn’t know enough about Marshall to form an impression of him, while 66 percent say the same of Radtke. The four Republicans held a primary debate recently in Roanoke and have two more scheduled this month.
In the general election matchup, Allen and Kaine enjoy massive support from their respective parties, while among independent voters, Kaine gets 46 percent to Allen’s 45 percent.
Kaine leads among moderates, 53 to 38 percent. And the Democrat is up 84 percent to 8 percent among African American voters, a commanding lead that still doesn’t quite match Obama’s 97 to 1 percent advantage over Romney.
Like Obama, Kaine has a solid lead in the suburbs closest to Washington, but the race is far closer in the rapidly growing exurban counties.
The poll shows a clear gender gap: Allen has an eight-point edge among male registered voters, while women lean toward Kaine by seven. Kaine has the advantage among better-educated voters, but the two candidates are running close to even among lower- and upper-income Virginians.
Asked which issues were most important to their choice in the Senate contest, voters most often highlight the economy, health care and the federal budget deficit. Allen leads among those who named the economy, the deficit and taxes as their primary issues. Kaine has the edge among voters most concerned about education. Kaine and Allen run about evenly among those emphasizing health care, an issue that Republicans have sought to use against Kaine.
John Rapp, 66, of Louisa County said he was not overly enamored of either candidate.
“Allen’s kind of hard to figure for me,” said Rapp, a Republican. “I thought he started out pretty well when he ran time before last.”
But he soured on Allen during the 2006 Senate race, when Allen used the word “macaca,” an ethnic slur in some cultures, to refer to an Indian American campaign volunteer working for Webb. Rapp was bothered not so much by Allen’s use of the word — he was willing to chalk it up to a slip of the tongue — as by his shifting explanations for it.
“As a U.S. senator, he needs to be able to think on his feet and handle issues better,” Rapp said.
Yet Rapp, who does research on environmental pollution and occupational disease, is no fan of Kaine. He thought Kaine “fared pretty well as governor,” but he was turned off by his stint as DNC chairman.
Pressed to come down on one side or the other, Rapp said: “If they ran against each other, I would probably vote for Allen.”
Polling director Jon Cohen, polling analyst Scott Clement and staff writers Anita Kumar and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.