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Tied, but not to Obama

Allen and Kaine tied for 2012 Senate race; Dems may not suffer much from Obama connection

Tim Kaine (kaineforva.com)

Tied, but not to Obama

With 14 months remaining until the 2012 election, Virginia's U.S. Senate race is a statistical dead heat. Republican George Allen leads Democrat Tim Kaine 42% to 39% with 19% undecided, according to a poll released today by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College.

Virginia, which went for President Obama in 2008 but has a Republican governor, is a battleground state for 2012, important both for the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate. Kaine leads among moderates (52%-30%), but Allen leads among independents (42%-33%).

The results suggest that Virginia Democrats, starting to distance themselves from the President over his sinking poll numbers in the state, may not suffer as much as Republicans hope from the connection. At least one Democrat, state Sen. Phillip Puckett, said last week he would not support Obama's re-election in 2012 because the president is not a strong proponent of coal, a staple of his southwestern district. "It's very clear to me that the administration does not support the coal industry in a way that's beneficial to our area. So, I don't plan to support President Obama for re-election," he told WJHL-TV.

Neither Allen nor Kaine have won their party primaries yet. This poll offered three options: Kaine, Allen, and "someone else/undecided," leaving out candidates such as Tea Party-supported GOP candidate Jamie Radtke.

The poll also posed hypothetical matchups. President Obama trails a generic (unnamed) Republican 41% to 33%, he trails Mitt Romney 45% to 37% and Rick Perry by a statistically insignificant 42% to 40%. However, Obama leads potential opponents Michele Bachmann (46% to 35%), Ron Paul (43% to 33%), and Sarah Palin (50% to 31%). Looking only at registered voters, none of those margins change by more than 1 percent and several do not change at all.

The poll includes interviews conducted with 601 residents of the Old Dominion between September 6 and September 17. Its margin of error is 4 percent.

A plurality of Virginians (49%) think the state is headed in the right direction, but an overwhelming majority (81%) think the country is on the wrong track.

Obama's approval rating is 39%, while 54% disapprove of the job he is doing as President. Congress gets an 11% approval rating. Virginia House members enjoy a 41% approval rating while Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has an approval rating of 67%.

Respondents were evenly split (48% to 48%) between thinking that elected officials should vote the way their constituents prefer or vote for what the representative thinks is best for the country.

Citizens also appear to be strongly in favor of political compromise. More than two-thirds (68%) think elected officials should compromise to get things done rather than holding firm to their beliefs if that could lead to gridlock. A majority (56%) said they would vote for a candidate who said they would compromise over a candidate who said they would stand on their principles (32%). Not surprisingly then, 71% of the respondents think that gridlock in Washington is more the result of political gamesmanship, rather than a reflection of genuinely different views regarding what is best for the country (22%).

Virginians judge unemployment to be a more serious problem than the budget deficit by nearly a 3:1 margin (65% to 21%).

A majority of respondents (58%) think the government can safely run a smaller deficit, while 35% think the budget must be balanced. Virginians prefer that the deficit be reduced through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases (66%) but 29% prefer budget cuts alone. Only 4% prefer tax increases alone.

Majorities think the deficit can be significantly reduced without cutting entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (62%), without raising taxes on most Americans (59%) and without cutting other important programs (51%).

"While the election of 2012 is still a long way off-14 months is an eternity in political time-it appears that the Senate race may well be nip-and-tuck for the next year and beyond," said Dr. Harry Wilson, the director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "At the same time, President Obama's campaign has to be concerned about the possibility of losing Virginia in 2012 after putting the state in the Democratic column in 2008."

"Virginians claim to prefer political compromise over sticking to principle," Wilson said, "even to the point of voting for a candidate who said they would compromise. Of course, no candidate is likely to test that assertion. Conventional political wisdom holds that opening oneself up to the claim of being wishy-washy is a recipe for defeat."

"Virginians clearly want more jobs," Wilson said, "even at the cost of short-term deficit increases. And they think, perhaps incorrectly, that significant deficit reduction can be achieved without broadly shared pain."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Les Sillars

Les is a WORLD Radio correspondent and commentator. He previously spent two decades as WORLD Magazine’s Mailbag editor. Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.

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