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McDonnell Ahead in Governor's Race, Poll Finds

Deeds has sought to appeal to independents by trying to portray McDonnell as outside the mainstream on such issues as abortion, which he raised in campaign stops last week. But the poll shows that Deeds's plan has yet to yield benefits. Fewer than three in 10 view McDonnell as too conservative, which is less than the number of respondents who view Deeds as too liberal.

McDonnell has spent much of the campaign trying to force Deeds to talk about controversial federal issues, including legislation on unions, climate change and health care, as he works to tie him to Obama and the Democratic Congress.

Deeds has distanced himself from issues in Washington while pledging to follow in the footsteps of the last two Democratic governors, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Kaine. The two remain popular among voters in the state -- with 68 percent and 55 percent approval, respectively -- but traditionally optimistic Virginians are now about evenly split on the direction of the state: Forty-seven percent believe Virginia is on the right path, while 45 percent are pessimistic.

Deeds receives the support of most of those who are positive about the state's direction. But McDonnell is winning by a wider margin among those holding a negative view. The Republican also picks up nearly a third of voters who approve of Kaine's job performance, on top of about three-quarters of those who disapprove.

The economy is issue No. 1 in the campaign, with voters about evenly split between Deeds and McDonnell on dealing with it. Health care, which has dominated national politics for the past month, is the second most-frequently mentioned issue in the governor's race, followed by education, transportation and taxes.

Northern Virginia's traffic woes push transportation issues up the ladder to second place in that region. Voters in Northern Virginia give Deeds a six-point edge on handling road and transit issues, with a quarter expressing no opinion or trusting neither of the two candidates.

McDonnell has proposed paying for transportation fixes in part by privatizing the state's liquor stores and adding tolls on some highways. Deeds has pledged to come up with a solution in his first year in office but has offered no funding plan and has been criticized for not saying whether he would raise taxes.

The poll shows that Virginians are split on which candidate would best handle the economy and other top issues, with large numbers undecided on who has the edge in dealing with transportation and abortion. McDonnell has an advantage on taxes and guns.

Peggy L. Wall, 75, a retired hospital worker from Vienna, calls herself an independent and said she is leaning slightly toward McDonnell because she believes he can create jobs.

"The next governor, he has to bring jobs to Virginia, and I'm not talking about the metropolitan area,'' she said. "I'm talking about the entire state, including the southwestern part of Virginia, where they really need jobs."

Ken Woollard, 51, an antiques dealer from Portsmouth, said he is leaning toward voting for Deeds after his business was hurt by the recession, partly because of the rising cost of health care. "I just feel like Deeds would be the one who would look forward and would really have a grasp on the economy," he said.

The Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 11-14 among a random sample of 1,002 adults.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and staff writers Sandhya Somashekhar and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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