Virginia May Spurn GOP in '08

By Tim Craig and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 7, 2007

Virginia, usually a reliably Republican state in presidential elections, may become a key battleground in the 2008 election as broadly negative views among independents of President Bush and the war in Iraq have altered the presidential race.

Mirroring the national mood, Virginians' approval of Bush and support for U.S. policies in Iraq have eroded as the war has dragged on. Bush is the worst of the past nine presidents, say Virginia's independent voters, who helped him win in 2004 but now say they are more likely to prefer that a Democrat rather than a Republican be the next president.

The revised portrait of the Virginia political landscape emerges from a poll conducted by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.

The poll paid particular attention to independents, about 30 percent of Virginia's adult population. Results offer fresh evidence of a trend in Virginia politics -- that independents have played a critical role in electing Democrats in two consecutive governor's races and in last year's U.S. Senate race.

As Democrats and Republicans gear up for next year, the poll shows that Virginians are nervous about the economy and health care and are frustrated with politics. State residents' anxieties mirror those expressed by voters nationally, challenging the notion that Virginians are at odds with the rest of the country on key issues and giving Democrats an opportunity to win the state's 13 electoral votes.

Virginia has not supported a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964, when voters chose Lyndon B. Johnson over Barry Goldwater, who won only six states.

But, more than a year before the general election, this poll shows that four in 10 voters prefer that a Democrat be elected to the White House in 2008, compared with 33 percent who said they favor a Republican. One in 10 said they prefer an independent.

"I think most of the United States and the majority of people I talk to are kind of negative towards the Republican Party," said Randall Austin, 53, of southwestern Virginia. "With the war, the economy, with everything, including fuel pricing, I have a feeling everyone wants a change," said Austin, a self-described independent who supported Bush in 2004.

When asked to name the worst president since 1960, 46 percent of the state's independents cited Bush. No other president was mentioned by more than 15 percent of independents.

Democratic and Republican strategists say that the public mood could shift dramatically by fall 2008. But dissatisfaction with the president's policies appears to be influencing Virginians' impressions of the national Republican Party.

Slightly more than half of Virginia residents said they have an unfavorable view of the national Republican Party, including 60 percent of independents, according to the poll.

By comparison, 55 percent of residents, including half of independents, said they have a favorable impression of national Democrats.

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