The Obama factor: Virginia edition
Virginia Democrats hope President Obama's campaign stop today in Norfolk will boost Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds' standing and improve turnout in the final days of the campaign, but most in a new Washington Post poll say the president will not affect their vote next Tuesday.
Seven in 10 in the new poll say Obama is not a factor in their choice. And among those who say they'll take him into account, 14 percent say their vote will be to express support for Obama, 15 percent to indicate opposition to him.
The ongoing debate in Washington over health care reform also splits the electorate. A narrow majority (53 percent) opposes the legislation being developed by the Obama administration and Congress - including 44 percent who strongly oppose it - while 43 percent favor it. But Virginians are more evenly split on the necessity of reform: 48 percent say it's needed to control costs and expand coverage while about the same figure (49 percent) say it will do more harm than good.
Obama maintains majority approval in this poll, with 54 percent of likely voters and 57 percent of registered voters giving him the thumbs up on how he's handling his job. Both figures are little changed in Post Virginia polls this fall.
Obama's impact on the governor's race is not uniform, however, with divisions along regional and racial lines.
For Northern Virginians and those in the southeastern corner of the state, Obama is a bit more of a positive influence than a negative one (16 percent say their vote in part will be to support him vs. 10 percent opposition in NoVa, 18 to 13 percent in the southeast), while more in the rest of the state see the gubernatorial campaign as a chance to express opposition to Obama (22 percent to voice opposition vs. 11 percent support in the west and 18 to 12 percent in the Richmond area).
Among whites, those who say their vote is a reflection on Obama's time in office tilt decidedly negative (18 percent opposition, 8 percent support), while among blacks, nearly four in 10 say they'll vote to show their support for Obama (37 percent) and just 2 percent to express opposition.
Much of this racial division is driven by party ID, but even among Democrats, the positive tilt among whites (26 percent to express support, 1 percent opposition) is not as broad as that among non-white Democrats (40 percent support, less than one percent opposition). Among white independents, just 5 percent say their vote is to express support for Obama, 16 percent to express opposition.
Obama's appearance on Deeds' behalf could also affect the contest by boosting turnout. But the effort may be hampered by lingering differences of opinion on campaign strategy between the White House and Deeds' camp, a conflict played out publicly over the past week.
Still, the Deeds camp has made some headway among those who voted for Obama in 2008. In the Post poll earlier this month, only half of those who backed Obama last November said they were likely to cast a ballot in this year's contest. That's since risen to 57 percent, but still lags far behind the 72 percent of McCain voters who say they are definitely going to the polls next week.
And several groups which helped boost Obama's showing in the commonwealth - younger voters and African Americans in particular - make up a smaller share of the likely electorate this year than they did in 2008.
Among those registered voters age 18 to 29 who cast a ballot in 2008, just 39 percent say they are certain to vote this time around, compared with two-thirds among voters age 30 and up. Similarly, 53 percent of black voters who voted in 2008 say they plan to vote this time, compared with 66 percent of whites.
Regionally, Obama's voters make their strongest showing in Northern Virginia, where 71 percent say they are absolutely certain to cast a ballot, but elsewhere, just over half (52 percent) are definitely planning to vote. Compare that with figures among McCain voters (73 percent plan to vote in Northern Virginia, 72 percent in the rest of the state) and Obama's potential impact becomes more clear. In the southeast, which includes the site of Obama's visit today, just 49 percent of Obama's voters plan to cast a ballot Tuesday.
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