We polled the Jim Webb/George Allen rematch that's now become a reality late last year and found Webb ahead 49-45. Here are three reasons why Allen could win...and a couple reasons why at least for now he probably won't:
The Case for Allen:
-Voters in the state don't strongly dislike him. 40% have a favorable opinion and 41% an unfavorable one. Most incumbents who lose bids for reelection leave office really unpopular but that's not the case for Allen- voters were then and continue to be pretty evenly divided on him. His defeat ultimately had more to do with having to run in a strongly Democratic year than 'Macaca' or a strong desire for people to get rid of him.
-Webb has not proven to be overwhelmingly popular. He had a 43% approval rating on our last poll which is the exact average we found for all Senators we polled in the second half of 2008. He has basically no crossover support from Republicans- only 8% of them approve of him. Webb's position is fine but he is by no means an unbeatable juggernaut.
-Allen's vulnerability to a Tea Party challenge seems pretty limited. 73% of Republicans in the state have a favorable opinion of him to only 8% with an unfavorable one. Allen is a very well known quantity to GOP voters and they overwhelmingly like him so that's going to make it very difficult for anyone to go after him from the right.
The Case against Allen:
-Allen is likely to be dealing with an electorate that's much more Democratic than the one he lost with in 2006. For the first Allen/Webb contest the exit polls showed that among those who turned out there were 3% more Republicans than Democrats. For the 2008 Presidential election there were 6% more Democrats than Republicans. That's a 9 point shift in the electorate from a midterm to a Presidential year. Since Allen has virtually no appeal to Democrats- only 6% said they'd support him on this poll- that means he'd have to rack up a huge lead with independents to knock off Webb in a Presidential electorate but...
-Independents like Webb better than they like Allen. Webb's approval with them is a 48/34 spread while Allen's favorability with them breaks down 38/45. Webb has a 5 point advantage with independents in the head to head. It's certainly not impossible for a Republican to rack up a huge lead with independent voters in Virginia- our polling generally showed Bob McDonnell winning them 2:1- but Allen is not anywhere close to that right now.
I'm 75% confident Webb would win if the voting was today but Allen certainly starts out in a viable enough position that he can win if things go his way over the next 21 months.