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Race to Richmond

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Behind the Poll Numbers

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

1.Although Virginians like their Democratic leaders, they're not happy with where the state is headed, and that's a problem for R. Creigh Deeds. For the first time in polls since the early 1990s, fewer than half of Virginians are content with the state's direction. And among those who say the state is seriously off track, Robert F. McDonnell gets high marks.

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2. Democrats' efforts to paint McDonnell as outside the mainstream have fallen flat, with nearly the same number of people saying that McDonnell and Deeds are "about right" ideologically. In fact, more now call Deeds "too liberal" than see McDonnell as "too conservative." The caveat is that more than half of voters say they know little about the candidates.

3. Despite winning the state by 7 points in the fall and being the first Democrat to take Virginia in 44 years, President Obama is not a decisive figure in the governor's race -- 34 percent say Obama's support for Deeds makes them more apt to vote for the Democratic candidate, 34 percent say that makes them less likely to do so and most of the rest say it makes no difference. But that doesn't mean Deeds is holding on to everyone who backed Obama. Among those voters, 75 percent back Deeds, and 13 percent back McDonnell. Conversely, McDonnell gets the support of 86 percent of people who voted for Sen. John McCain last fall, while Deeds gets 5 percent of those who backed the Republican presidential candidate.

4. Each candidate can count on the support of about a quarter of the electorate. Deeds's base includes higher proportions of female (particularly non-white), Northern Virginia, African American and better educated voters, while McDonnell's is white, conservative and more apt to be evangelical and live in the western parts of the state.

5. It's August. With low attention levels and few voters solidly behind either candidate, much can shift -- and probably will. Four years ago, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine trailed Republican Jerry W. Kilgore by 4 points just after Labor Day before going on to a 6-point win in November.

-- Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta

METHODOLOGY: This Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 11-14 among a random sample of 1,002 Virginia adults, including users of both conventional and cellular telephones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is 3 points for the sample of 868 registered voters and 4 points among the 601 who said they are certain to vote in November. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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