Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign has offered the country numerous bewildering moments, but even seasoned political observers were shocked Sunday by a new poll showing Hillary Clinton leading him by 15 points in Virginia, all but ending the state’s battleground status for 2016.
Clinton’s 44 to 29 percent advantage in a Wason Center for Public Policy poll is more than double her lead in late September.
“I did not expect her lead to be as large as it is,” said Dan Palazzolo, chair of the political science department at the University of Richmond. “It’s just a huge number. Virginia has gone from being a battleground state to a clear Democratic-leaning state.”
Demographic changes, particularly in the crucial northern part of the state, have been nudging Virginia toward the blue column for more than a decade. President Obama won the state twice — the last time, in 2012, by nearly 4 percent.
But results from the poll indicate that the substantial widening of support for the Democratic candidate in this election cycle has little to do with the Democratic candidate.
Clinton’s overall support increased in the poll by only two points from late September, an indication that “while voters are rejecting Trump, they are having a hard time embracing Clinton,” the Wason Center said.
The poll, which quizzed 809 likely voters, was conducted in the days after The Washington Post reported on Trump’s recorded lewd comments about women and his continued defense of the remarks as “locker room” talk during the second presidential debate.
Wason Center director Quentin Kidd said the episode “fundamentally made Virginia impossible for him to win.”
The aftermath propelled Clinton among several groups in Virginia.
Clinton went ahead among men for the first time — 37 to 32 percent, according to the Wason Center poll. Another first: She leads among military families. Support from independents jumped to 39 percent, from 21 percent in late September.
Trump’s decline among Republicans (5 percentage points) and men (10 points) were particularly notable.
“Voters are clearly abandoning Trump,” Palazzolo said. “It’s clear that he has failed the basic decency test in Virginia.”
In recent weeks, Trump’s campaign in Virginia has been disrupted by controversy.
Corey Stewart, his state co-chair, was fired after he reportedly defied senior campaign officials by appearing at a protest to warn Republicans not to abandon Trump following his lewd comments about women.
Various fingers of blame were pointed at and among Stewart, the Trump campaign and GOP officials.
Now, with less than a month until election day, analysts said Trump was finally realizing that Virginia was no longer a battleground state.
Last week, the Trump campaign moved some of its Virginia staff members to North Carolina but insisted it was not giving up. Campaign officials did not say how many workers had left the state.
“It’s no longer a battle,” Palazzolo said. “It wouldn’t make any sense for them to spend money here.”
The results were not all grim for the Republican candidate. In southern and southwestern Virginia, support for Trump was up — by one point, to 48 percent.
But Clinton gained on Trump in Northern Virginia, with her support surging by 10 points. Trump, losing ground again, dropped by six. Clinton leads there 55 to 21 percent.