Bob McDonnell has opened up a 51-37 lead over Creigh Deeds in the race to be Virginia's next Governor, up from a 49-43 advantage four weeks ago.
The movement in the race likely has more to do with national trends than anything actually going on in Virginia. As Barack Obama's approval has moved downward in the last month, so have the fortunes of Democratic candidates on the ballot in 2009. Democrat Jon Corzine trails by an equal 14 point margin in New Jersey.
Both candidates have positive favorability ratings- McDonnell's is 54/26 and Deeds' is 43/32. But McDonnell has a 52-33 lead with independents, and also has his party's base more locked up. Among Republicans he holds a 94-2 lead, while Deeds has the 80-4 advantage with Democrats.
The biggest problem hampering Deeds right now is a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats for coming out to vote this fall. Although Barack Obama took Virginia 52-46 last November, those planning to vote in this year's election report having voted for John McCain by a margin of 52-41. Put another way, roughly 60% of people who voted for McCain last fall are planning to come out while only 42% of those who voted for Obama are. He probably needs to generate enough excitement around his candidacy to get out closer to 55% of those Obama voters if he's going to win.
There are some signs within the poll that Deeds' standing is likely to improve. For instance two of the largest groups of undecided voters are African Americans and those under 30, both groups that were very favorable to Barack Obama last year. He has a 64-3 lead with blacks and seems likely to pick up most of the undecideds as the election comes closer.
Still it's clear there's a lot of work to do. For instance his lead in northern Virginia is only 51-44 and among all voters describing themselves as suburbanites he trails McDonnell 51-37. By comparison a PPP survey right before the election last year showed Obama winning those folks 58-38, meaning at this point there's basically a 34 point turnaround with those voters.
Deeds has shown an ability to come back before- he was down by more than this just five weeks before winning a dominant victory in the primary- so with three months to go it's way too early to count him out. But with the national winds going in a Republican direction he's now in a position where he has to run against both Bob McDonnell and the national political climate. He's taken some heat for his 'Deeds Country' tour, but convincing folks in his part of the state who don't like Obama and national Democrats to still vote for him based on their common background may be more important to his chances now than ever.
In the other statewide races Bill Bolling is up 48-34 against Jody Wagner for Lieutenant Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli has a 45-32 advantage over Steve Shannon for Attorney General.
PPP will release full numbers looking at Barack Obama and Tim Kaine's approval ratings, as well as Virginians' perceptions about whether Obama was born in the United States, tomorrow.
Full results here