With a week to go until the Democratic primary for Governor in Virginia the state of the race is as muddled as ever, with all three candidates within five points of each other. Creigh Deeds has a slight lead with 27%, followed by Terry McAuliffe at 24%, and Brian Moran at 22%. All three candidates are within each other's margins of error and if the election was today any of the trio could plausibly finish first or last.
Nevertheless the momentum continues to be on Deeds' side. Over the last month he has gone from 14% to 20% to 27% in the polls while McAuliffe has dropped from 30% to 29% to 24% and Moran has pretty much stayed in place, polling twice at 20% and now up to 22%.
Two developments in the race appear to have fueled the movement over the last week and a half:
-Deeds' endorsement by the Washington Post has resulted in a significant increase in support in northern Virginia. He was polling at 11% there two weeks ago and that has more than doubled in the wake of the endorsement to 23%. With that region casting about 30% of the primary vote, more than half of his progress since the last poll has come there alone.
-McAuliffe has seen a decline in support in the Hampton Roads and greater Richmond areas since Brian Moran went on the airwaves with ads attacking him. He's dropped from 34 to 23% in Richmond and from 33 to 25% in Hampton Roads.
While the race is not trending well for McAuliffe it would be a mistake to count him out. Most of the interviews for this poll were conducted before he went on the air in Washington DC, and reports yesterday showed that he has almost as much money as his two opponents combined for the final week of the campaign.
There are a couple ways to look at that. You could argue that since McAuliffe has had a huge fundraising advantage all along and has not been able to put the race away that his stretch run spending won't be able to put him over the top, especially with Deeds and Moran having enough to run active campaigns in the final week as well. On the other hand the electorate in this race is remarkably fluid. We're still showing 26% of voters undecided and even among voters with a preference 44% say they could change their minds. There are a lot of folks who do plan to vote who have not been paying much attention and will tune in to make their decision in these closing days, and McAuliffe may have more of an ability to reach them. It's very hard to say how this will all play out.
Here are two key issues for each candidate in the final week:
-Black voters are undecided at a much higher rate than white voters, 36% compared to 22%, and he is running in third with that demographic. Can he capture enough of those voters for his lead among whites to hold off McAuliffe and Moran?
-Can he continue to build the momentum from the Post endorsement in northern Virginia? Moran is still going to win the region and McAuliffe is now running very expensive tv ads there. Deeds will need to at least hold onto the support he's built up there in recent weeks while trying to continue to build it.
-Can he still afford to stay positive about his primary opponents? Some argue he's already broken that vow, but he could break it a lot more directly over the airwaves if he wanted to. He's seen his support drop as the only candidate in the race having attack ads run against him, and with his negatives higher than his two opponents combined he may need to knock them down to prop himself up. There's no virtue in being the good guy if it costs you the nomination.
-Is there any way he can win over independent voters? McAuliffe actually leads the race among Democrats with 26% to 24% for both Deeds and Moran. But with little reason to vote in the Republican primary it appears about 20% of the electorate next week will be independent voters, and Deeds is up 40-17 on him with those folks. Bob McDonnell's lack of opposition for the GOP nomination could have the unintended effect of hurting McAuliffe's chances.
-Can he translate his attacks on McAuliffe to votes for him? He seems to be having some success in driving down the front runner's support, but it seems to be benefiting Deeds at least as much if not more than he's helping himself. He needs to show voters not just why they shouldn't vote for McAuliffe, but also why he's the better alternative. In the last poll Moran led Deeds 40-35 among voters with an unfavorable opinion of McAuliffe. Now Deeds has the 47-36 advantage with that group.
-Is there any way he can do more to connect with the more conservative, rural part of the electorate? He's running at 5% Southside and only has the support of 9% of voters who describe their ideology as conservative. Those may not be huge voter blocs in a Democratic primary, but in a race as tight as this one every little thing has the potential to make a big difference.
In the Lieutenant Governor's race Jody Wagner has extended her lead to 27-11 over Michael Signer.
PPP will release numbers looking at how the Democratic electorate views each of the Gubernatorial candidates when it comes to the general election tomorrow, and a final primary poll either late Sunday night or Monday.
Full results here.