Obama ratings may be aiding GOP in Virginia

Former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) has opened up a statistical lead over his Democratic rival in the race for governor, according to new polls out of the Old Dominion, and some political observers say a public souring on President Obama could be the cause.

The latest poll, conducted for the liberal DailyKos website by the independent polling firm Research 2000, shows McDonnell with a 51 percent to 43 percent lead over state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D). That's up from a statistically insignificant one-point margin between the two in a mid-June poll.

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In the new poll, both men have healthy leads among their bases, though McDonnell does noticeably better among Democrats than Deeds among Republicans. McDonnell also sports a 55 percent to 40 percent lead among independent voters.

In total, though, little has happened within the Commonwealth to suggest a McDonnell surge. That leads some to conclude that Obama's souring approval ratings are dragging his party down as well.

"For better or worse, the president is perceived as being the leader of [his] party, and as goes fortunes of that presidential leader, often go the political fortunes of the people below them," said Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University.

"There's really not much going on in the race. There's not a lot of advertising that's out there, and there's been no big news," McDonald said. "We're too far out from the election yet for people to really have picked up that there's even a governor's race in Virginia."

Obama's approval ratings remain in positive territory; 51 percent see the president favorably, while 44 percent see him unfavorably. That's a slide of five points since the June poll, in which 56 percent viewed Obama positively.

"These poll numbers are reflective of bad moods, one against Democrats, the other against the incumbent party in Virginia itself," McDonald said. Deeds is running to become Virginia's third consecutive Democratic governor.

McDonnell did not face a primary contest, unlike Deeds, and the Republican's favorability rating is much higher than that of his Democratic rival. In all, 57 percent of Virginians view McDonnell favorably, compared with just 46 percent who see Deeds the same way.

Republicans have long been optimistic about off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey, places they believe will give them the necessary footing to launch assaults on Democratic majorities in Congress in 2010.

And historically, the GOP is on solid footing. It has been more than three decades since a president saw a member of his own party win the governorship in Virginia the year after the president was elected.

National Republicans are doing their best to spotlight McDonnell, as well. On Saturday, he will deliver the party's response to Obama's weekly radio address.

Democrats, too, have done their best to aid Deeds. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has made the race a top priority, and on Thursday Obama will travel to McLean, in Northern Virginia, to appear at a rally and a fundraiser with Deeds.