By Anita Kumar and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 27, 2008
Republican James S. Gilmore III has gained no ground in his U.S. Senate campaign against Democrat Mark R. Warner, according to a new Washington Post poll, despite Gilmore's attempts in recent weeks to hammer Warner for his support of the financial rescue plan.
Gilmore trails Warner among likely voters, 61 percent to 31 percent. The 30-point spread is identical to a Post poll last month and virtually the same as one conducted in October 2007.
Gilmore and Warner, both former governors, are vying to replace retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner in a race that has been overshadowed by the battle for Virginia in the presidential election.
The poll shows that support for Warner in Northern Virginia, the Democrat's home base, far exceeds Gilmore's: 65 percent to 28 percent. His lead is almost 2 to 1 in all other regions of the state. Warner leads 58 percent to 36 percent in rural areas, traditional Republican strongholds where he has made significant inroads.
More than six in 10 voters polled believe Warner's views on most issues are ideologically aligned with theirs. Fewer than four in 10 think Gilmore's positions are about right.
Warner started a Democratic resurgence in the state when he won the governor's mansion in 2001. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Sen. James Webb, both Democrats, continued that trend by winning statewide races in 2005 and 2006.
If Warner wins Nov. 4, Virginians will be represented by two Democratic senators for the first time since 1970.
Warner calls himself a centrist leader who can work with both parties, and he left office with record-high approval ratings. The Post poll shows that he receives support from 29 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents. Seventy percent of those who call themselves moderate support Warner.
Gilmore, who narrowly beat his conservative opponent at his party's nomination convention this summer, received support from 58 percent of conservatives and 56 percent of white evangelical Protestants.
Gilmore, who served as governor from 1998 until 2002, and Warner, who replaced him, have spent much of the campaign criticizing each others' gubernatorial records. Voters' reasons for favoring a candidate reflect that.
Ann Wilkes, 56, a part-time writer at a law firm who lives in Fairfax County, said she voted for Warner for governor because she thought his moderate views were more in line with hers and those of others in Northern Virginia. She plans to vote for him again based on his record.
"He was a good governor,'' she said. "He rated very highly and did a good job."
Wilkes said she was impressed with Warner's business background and that he cut spending on his own programs as governor.
Gilmore won the governor's seat after promising to eliminate the personal property tax Virginia cities and counties levy on vehicles. Warner blamed Gilmore for underestimating the impact of the car tax cut on services and contributing to a budget shortfall that topped $6 billion.
With help from moderate Republicans, Warner pushed through a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004 to balance the budget and preserve money for education and social services. Gilmore accused Warner of ignoring the state's improving economic conditions in 2004 so he could justify the tax increase.
David Griffith, 61, who works for the federal government in a benefits office in Hanover County, said he remembers Gilmore fondly as the "car tax guy." He said he plans to vote for Gilmore because of his record as governor and because he generally votes for Republicans because of their views on social issues.
This Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 22-25 among a random sample of 1,026 Virginia adults, including 902 registered voters, 784 of whom are likely voters. Results from the full poll among registered voters have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error is 3.5 points among likely voters and larger for subgroups.
Polling director Jon Cohen and assistant polling analyst Kyle Dropp contributed to this report.