In the Race for Governor, Voters Consider the President

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 20, 2009


In every gubernatorial race in Virginia since 1977, the party that won the White House lost the Governor's Mansion.

Coincidence? Maybe, but Virginia's tradition is understandable.

After an administration comes in, people are naturally anxious. Some think the president is moving too fast, some think he is moving too slow.

In a Washington Post poll released this week, only 34 percent of registered voters in Virginia think the nation is moving in the right direction, and only 47 percent think the state is -- down from 65 percent in 2005.

The poll shows that discontent about the nation and the state -- run by Democrats as president and governor -- is helping fuel Republican Robert F. McDonnell's early lead over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds in the race for governor.

McDonnell is favored over Deeds among registered voters, 47 to 40 percent, and is up by an even steeper margin, 54 to 39 percent, among those who say they are certain to vote in November. In left-leaning Northern Virginia, where federal issues are most acute, the two run about even, 45 percent for Deeds to 42 percent for McDonnell among registered voters.

The poll shows that President Obama and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who moonlights as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, remain relatively popular, though their approval ratings have dropped.

Fifty-seven percent of adults polled approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president, while 55 percent of registered voters said they approve of the way Kaine is handing his job.

Obama, who recently visited McLean to campaign with Deeds, won the state last year by seven points, becoming the first Democrat running for the White House to carry Virginia since 1964.

Thirty-four percent say Obama's support for Deeds makes them more likely to vote for him, and 34 percent say it makes it less likely.

"I don't know that Deeds is a bad guy, but I don't like who he associates with, like President Obama," said J. Brownley Cox, 77, a retired president of a farm credit cooperative who lives in Waverly. "Has anyone stopped to count up how much of our money he's throwing away? He's got no respect for anybody else's money. He talks about change, but he wants to throw the bath water and the baby and everything out."

Joseph Michalowizc, 67, of Manassas, a retired government scientist who has gone back to work as a contractor for the Naval Research Laboratory, voted for Obama last year and is almost positive he will vote for Deeds this year.

"It's primarily his stance backing the president," Michalowizc said. "I think Obama's been doing amazingly well, given the mess he was confronted with. The economic situation was really a disaster. . . . People tend to get impatient. Most of that is from people who would have been opposed from the beginning."

But although 75 percent of Virginia voters who backed Obama said they would vote for Deeds, 13 percent plan to vote for McDonnell.

Kaine, who has faced criticism in recent months from people who do not think he should have taken the DNC job while governor, has seen his approval ratings drop from 66 percent of registered voters last year to 55 percent this month.

Kaine's approval rating has dropped from 52 percent to 39 percent among Republicans since last year and from 66 percent to 51 percent among independents. It has held steady in southeastern Virginia but has declined in other regions, with the sharpest decrease in the western part of the state.

Delight Booker, 61, a school librarian from Richmond, said he is leaning toward voting for Deeds, partly because he vows to follow in the footsteps of Kaine and former governor Mark R. Warner.

"We have had two great Democratic governors in the state, and I want that to continue," Booker said. "Mark Warner pulled us out of financial ruin. We were in horrible financial straits, and he came in and really, really straightened it out. Tim Kaine continued on that same pathway."

Sixteen percent of registered voters said Kaine's DNC job helps his performance as governor, and 28 percent said it hurts his performance. Fifty-three percent said it made no difference.

Fred Weck, 70, of Great Falls, the director of a music program in elementary schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, grew up a Democrat but became a Republican. Now, he says, he's neither. He voted for Obama last year and will probably vote for Deeds this year.

"I think Governor Kaine has done a pretty good job," he said. "The comment that maybe he's maybe spent a little too much time at the DNC probably has some value. How could it not? But I don't see that it's done any visible damage."

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

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