By Carten Cordell Watchdog | Virginia Bureau
But Thursday’s Quinnipiac University-CBS News-New York Times Poll suggests the commonwealth’s successes may hamstring the momentum of GOP presidential nominee, and McDonnell compatriot, Mitt Romney, who has largely based his campaign on having the answer for a sluggish national economy.
Poll numbers show Romney’s dynamite performance in last week’s presidential debate has gained him some ground in pivotal swing states Colorado and Wisconsin, but Virginia still favors Barack Obama, by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin.
“Voters react to what they can feel and touch,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “What they can feel and touch in Virginia makes them happier than their cousins who live in South Carolina or Oregon.”
The poll, conducted Oct. 4 through Oct. 9, quizzed close to 4,000 likely voters in the swing states, and found they think Romney won the first debate by a margin of four to one. But the former Massachusetts governor hasn’t come any closer to claiming the Old Dominion.
Romney’s 46 percent in Virginia remained unchanged from a month ago, according Quinnipiac’s polling. But despite Obama picking up a percentage point from September, the race remains tight with a 2.7 percent margin of error.
Colorado gave the edge to Romney by 48 percent to 47 percent after Obama held the same margin in the state a month ago. The president still leads 50 to 47 percent in Wisconsin, but Romney has gained two points since September. The leads in both states were near a margin of error of 2.7 percent to 2.8 percent.
As both sides prepare for the final act of a contentious election season, the formula for victory has become rigidly narrow, making electoral votes a precious commodity.
So with Virginia very much in play, Romney faces the unenviable task of trying to win an electorate without his premiere campaign argument against an incumbent.
“Actually this is pretty unusual,” Brown said. “Virginia is an aberration because it has been doing so well anyway. It has a large military presence, but not if sequestration happens. And you have almost a third of the state in Northern Virginia, on the border from the District of Columbia, and it has benefitted from the growth of government and government consultants over the last four years.”
But Geoff Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said the political climate in the Commonwealth may not be as settled as Quinnipiac suggests.
Pointing to a Marist College-NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll — also released Thursday— showing Romney up 48 to 47 percent in Virginia, Skelley said Virginia remains very much in play.
“All the other polling has indicated some falloff, maybe not much, for Obama, but some. (Quinnipiac) is going against the grain,” he said. “In terms of (Virginia’s) economy, there has been a mixed feeling about the importance of state economies (in a national election).
“The fact that Virginia’s economy is a couple points below the national average, it can only help the president. How much it helps is debatable, but it helps some.”
Quinnipiac’s polling said 84 percent of Virginia respondents thought the federal government was at least “very important” or “somewhat important” to creating jobs in the state.
That sets up an interesting challenge for Romney, who is expected to carry counties with high unemployment in western and southern Virginia. But he must also siphon off enough votes in the state’s metropolitan areas and Northern Virginia, where federal spending is more prominent, to offset Obama supporters.
In 2008, Obama claimed only a handful of Virginia counties, but he took the state on the strength of 52 percent of the popular vote over GOP challenger John McCain, the bulk of which came from Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Hampton Roads areas.
“It is important for Romney to try and run up the score as much as he can in other parts of the state, but I am not sure how much more he can,” Skelley said.
But since no candidate has managed to build a sustained lead in the state, Skelley said that, no matter which poll you look at, Virginia is up for grabs.
“I am suspicious that we won’t know until election day (where Virginia falls),” he said. “I am sure we will want to make a call on it, but it is going to be really close. If the election were today, I couldn’t tell you where Virginia would go.”
Carten Cordell can be reached at email@example.com