The Washington Post

Democrats well-positioned for fall campaign stretch run in Virginia

Virginia is both a key presidential battleground and the site of an ultra-competitive Senate race that could well decide which party wins the upper chamber majority. In both contests, Democrats appear to hold the high ground with just under seven weeks to go until Election Day.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine with President Obama. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Beginning with the presidential race, recent polling shows that President Obama is well positioned for the fall stretch run. He leads Mitt Romney 52 percent to 44 percent in a Washington Post poll released Tuesday, and 50 percent to 46 percent in a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/ CBS News poll released on Wednesday. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polling in the state shows Obama with a three-point advantage over Romney.

Drilling down into specific surveys, it's clear that Obama's standing has been boosted by strong support from women.

The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll shows Obama leading clearly among women, 54 percent to 42 percent. It's been enough to overcome deficits among independents (who favor Romney by 11 points in the poll) and men (who favor Romney by six points). In the Washington Post poll, the gap among women is even wider, with Obama leading 58 percent to 39 percent.

Earlier this year, a debate raged over a measure in the state legislature that would have required women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds before getting abortions. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) eventually backed off his support for it, and the back-and-forth was seen as a net political loss for Republicans, who were relentlessly targeted by Democrats and women's groups in the ensuing weeks and months.

In addition to the gap among women, polling in Virginia also shows distinct divides along lines of race and religion. "Racial polarization in the presidential election nationally is on display in Virginia, where blacks back the president 93 - 5 percent and whites go for Romney 57 - 39 percent," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown. "Looking at the subgroup of evangelical Christians who share similar religious beliefs, the president leads 93 - 6 percent among black evangelicals, while Romney leads among white evangelicals 78 - 17 percent."

It's not as if there has been a sudden shift in support toward Obama in Virginia. The president's four-point advantage in the Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll is the same as it was in early August, and Obama's lead among registered voters in the Washington Post poll is identical to what it was in May.

Why has the president been able to hold his advantage, even as GOP-aligned outside groups have begun to meddle more heavily? In addition to strong support from women, another possible explanation is the economy, boosted by the defense industry in the northern part of the state. In July, Virginia's unemployment rate was the 10th lowest in the country, and a couple of points below the national average. In the Washington Post poll, Obama's marks on the economy were better than they were nationally in the latest Washington-Post/ABC News poll.

Over in the Senate race, former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine has opened up a lead over former senator George Allen (R) in two new polls. A Washington Post survey released Wednesday shows Kaine leading 51 percent to 43 percent, a departure from previous surveys showing a tighter race. Kaine's support among women has grown since the spring, as has his support from seniors.

The Quinnipiac/NYT/CBS poll showed Kaine leading 51 percent to 44 percent. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll showed a neck and neck race, which is more in line with most surveys taken during the year.

Kaine has been running a varied rotation of ads targeting different cross-sections of the electorate, including Hispanic voterswomen and moderates.

Allen has also tried to raise his appeal among women with his ads, but so far it hasn’t appeared to have worked as well as he'd like. Allen has also tried to make inroads on an issue that could resonate in the northern part of the state, which is mainly Democratic territory. He ran an ad this summer vowing to take a stand against automatic defense cuts due to kick in at the beginning of next year.

To be clear, neither Obama nor Kaine has put away the Virginia. Victories by Romney, Allen, or both remain very serious possibilities. But neither Democrat (and the fate of both are closely linked, considering how few crossover votes are expected) should be displeased with his standing at this late stage. And considering how crucial the state is in both the battle of the Senate and the race for the White House, that shouldn't be overlooked.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says ...
This was supposed to be the strongest Republican presidential field in memory, but cracks are showing. At Saturday night's debate, Marco Rubio withered in the face of unyielding attacks from Chris Christie, drawing attention to the biggest question about his candidacy: Is he ready to be president? How much the debate will affect Rubio's standing Tuesday is anybody's guess. But even if he does well, the question about his readiness to serve as president and to go up against Clinton, if she is the Democratic nominee, will linger.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.