Timothy M. Kaine enters the final days of Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest with a clear advantage over George Allen, a new Washington Post poll shows, keeping an edge despite a tightening presidential race and an avalanche of outside spending against the Democrat.
Kaine (D) leads fellow former governor Allen (R) among likely Virginia voters, 51 to 44 percent, nearly unchanged from the 51 to 43 margin the Democrat enjoyed in the Washington Post’s mid-September poll. While that survey showed the Senate race mirroring the presidential — Kaine and President Obama held identical 8-point leads — Kaine is now in a stronger position than his party’s standard-bearer.
The race to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D) has been a consistently tight affair, closely watched by both sides as Republicans see capturing the Virginia seat as crucial to their narrowing path toward control of the Senate. The two men have raised nearly $30 million combined, and more than $40 million has been poured into the race by outside groups — the most of any non-presidential race in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — with the majority coming from Allen’s allies.
Kaine’s lead is fueled by a continued strong showing among women voters and voters in the Northern Virginia suburbs closest to the District, and comes despite growing advantages for Allen among whites and seniors. Kaine enjoys a 12-point edge on the question of which man would do a better job working with the other party on Capitol Hill — a focal point of Kaine’s message.
Brenda Dobbs, 52, a federal employee in Hampton, said she voted for Allen in his 1993 gubernatorial race. But times have changed, and now she’s backing Kaine.
“When he was running for governor, there was more cohesiveness in Virginia so he could listen to both sides,” Dobbs said of Allen. “I don’t think he will do that in Washington.”
Dobbs said she really wants the two parties “to get along and get something done,” and she’s hoping that Kaine’s “reputation for working together” will help.
Kaine has repeatedly portrayed himself as a bridge-builder who has worked with presidents of both parties. Allen and his allies have sought to dent that reputation by playing up Kaine’s service as Democratic National Committee chairman, portraying him as a simple follower of Obama’s lead.
Yet 59 percent of likely voters say Obama was not a factor either way in their choice for Senate, while 25 percent say they would use their Senate vote to express support for the president and 13 percent say they wanted to express opposition.
Allen is hoping to find more voters like T.B. Wright, 55, who manages a fuel distribution company in Concord, in central Virginia.
“I’m going to vote for Allen,” said Wright.“I like his conservative ideas. I think Kaine would be nothing but a puppet for Obama.”
Kaine has a seven-point lead on the question of which man better understands the economic problems of Virginians, and also has a 12-point advantage on which candidate is “the more friendly and likable person.”
That’s a big reason why Joseph Kern, who works for his family’s moving and storage business in Hopewell, is planning to back Kaine this time despite having voted for Allen in some past races.
“It’s a likability issue,” said Kern, 48.
Overall, Kaine is viewed favorably by 57 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 33 percent. Allen’s rating is 50 percent favorable, 37 percent unfavorable.
The poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,504 adults from Oct. 22 through Oct. 26 on conventional and cellular phones. Among the sample of 1,228 likely voters, the poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
In the Post poll, Allen has the support of only 2 percent of Democrats, while Kaine draws 9 percent of Republicans. The two men are essentially tied among independents, and there may be little room for movement in the last week of the race: 84 percent of Kaine voters say their choice is definite, while 85 percent of Allen backers say the same.
The gender gap in the race continues to widen, with Kaine leading among women by 18 points and Allen holding a narrow four-point edge with men. Allen has the backing of 56 percent of white likely voters, while Kaine is supported by 77 percent of non-whites, including 86 percent of African Americans.
The close-in D.C. suburbs remain strong for Kaine, giving him a 28-point lead and offsetting an eight-point margin for Allen in the Northern Virginia exurbs. Allen has a double-digit advantage in the region that includes central and western Virginia, while Kaine has similar leads in the Richmond and Tidewater areas.
One bright spot for Allen is seniors. Likely voters 65 and older now lean to the Republican by 10 points, while the September Post poll showed the two men essentially tied.
Sharon McCormick of Midlothian, 65, said she plans to vote for Allen, as well as Mitt Romney, because she feels both Republicans will be more fiscally responsible than their Democratic rivals.
“We just keep spending money like there’s no tomorrow, and, gee, wouldn’t it be great to help everybody out and just keep handing money out?” McCormick said. “But when the money’s not there, you just can’t do it.”
A number of voters who expressed strong opinions on the presidential race were fuzzy on the Senate contest. Some struggled to name one or both candidates, despite an onslaught of TV ads for both. A middle-aged man who said he planned to vote Republican for Senate needed a moment to come up with the candidate’s name.
“Hang on — Allen!” And his opponent? “Griffin?” he guessed.
A young woman who said she planned to vote Democratic in the race wasn’t sure of his name either.
“Is it, like, Tim Kaine?” she asked. She could not name the Republican.
Polling director Jon Cohen, polling analyst Scott Clement and staff writers Errin Haines, Rachel S. Karas and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.