Warner Leads Gilmore By 30 Points, Poll Finds

In a debate last week in McLean, Mark R. Warner (D), left, embraced centrist positions; James S. Gilmore III (R) leaned to the right.
In a debate last week in McLean, Mark R. Warner (D), left, embraced centrist positions; James S. Gilmore III (R) leaned to the right. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Tim Craig and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III (R) has not gained any traction for his U.S. Senate campaign against Democrat Mark R. Warner during the past year, adding to Democratic hopes that the party will have two Virginia senators next year for the first time since 1970, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Warner, also a former governor, leads Gilmore among likely voters by 61 percent to 31 percent. Warner's 30-point advantage is nearly identical to the margin he held over Gilmore in a Washington Post poll in October, a month before the Republican formally entered the race.

Warner's advantage rests on the six in 10 voters who believe his views on most issues are ideologically aligned with theirs. Far fewer feel that way about Gilmore. About four in 10 think Gilmore's positions are about right, while 31 percent said they are too conservative. One in five said Warner's views are too liberal.

A year ago, many analysts predicted that the campaign to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R) would be one of the most hard-fought Senate races in the country this year.

But Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) decided not to run, and Gilmore nearly lost the nomination to a little-known state legislator, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). And the GOP has struggled to put together a well-financed effort against Warner, who left office in 2006 with record-high approval ratings.

The poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday, shows that Warner has a lead in every region of the state with six weeks left in the campaign.

Warner is ahead by nearly 40 points in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and has a 30-point lead in central Virginia, which includes Richmond and its suburbs, Gilmore's home political base. Warner also holds a four-point edge in the rural western part of the state, which is heavily Republican. In 2006, Republican George Allen prevailed in the central region with 55 percent of the vote and in the western region with 57 percent, although he lost the statewide race to James Webb.

Warner has support from 97 percent of the voters who identified themselves as Democrats and near-universal support from African Americans (94 percent) and liberals (89 percent).

Gilmore is strong among white evangelical Protestants, who back him 58 percent to 42 percent. In addition, 69 percent of Republicans say they will support Gilmore.

Gilmore, who was governor from 1998 to 2002, is trying to counteract Warner's efforts to reach out to Republicans by linking himself to GOP presidential nominee John McCain. The strategy assumes that the Arizona senator will win Virginia and most of his supporters will vote the party line on Election Day.

But Gilmore is taking a risk, because McCain remains locked in a close contest with Democratic nominee Barack Obama in Virginia. In the poll, Obama holds a three-point edge over McCain among likely voters, reinforcing Virginia's status as a battleground state that could tip the election.

Compounding Gilmore's challenge, a quarter of McCain supporters in Virginia said they plan to vote for Warner, compared with just 2 percent of Obama supporters who said they would back Gilmore. About four in 10 of those who would split their ticket to support McCain and Warner said Gilmore is too conservative for them.

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