Virginia Gov. Candidate Excites Young GOPers

Michael Hardy says Robert F. McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, is infusing a renewed sense of energy and optimism into young GOPers.

In recent days, the 27-year-old chairman of the Young Republicans of Virginia told HUMAN EVENTS he has fielded as many as 20 phone calls per day from fellow “YRs” across the country who are eager to do all they can to ensure McDonnell becomes the next governor of The Old Dominion.

“We’ve got people driving from Mississippi to come help,” Hardy said, alluding to the fact that about 100 volunteers will be either knocking on doors or working in phone banks this weekend. “That tells you the excitement that Bob and the Republican ticket is generating for this election. The last time I think there was this excitement was for George Allen when he ran for governor in 1993.”

The comparison is welcome news for Republicans. In 1993, Allen ran on a McDonnell-like platform of conservative principles and innovative ideas and overcame a 27-point lead early in the campaign, despite being dramatically outspent. His win sent a message to Washington where Bill Clinton was settling into office and seeking to overhaul health care system and Democrats had control of both chambers of Congress.

Perhaps more importantly, the Virginia GOP could be turning the corner after watching Democrats racked up strong support from a coalition of young voters, women and independent voters. This demographic bloc played pivotal roles in propelling Barack Obama, Sen. Jim Webb, Gov. Time Kaine and Mark Warner to victory in The Commonwealth.

Now polls show McDonnell has opened up a lead in the range of 7 to 19 points. More importantly, the Republican is besting or neck-and-neck with R. Creigh Deeds, his Democratic rival, among young voters, women voters and independent voters.

“Independents in particular have shifted dramatically,” said Dr. Bob Holsworth, a longtime political analyst in Virginia. “I don’t think there is very much Deeds can do about that. So now Deeds is trying to mobilize a Democratic base that seems to be lethargic and indifferent. All these young voters who voted for Obama are sitting in home. It is not a wholesale shift to McDonnell, but a wholesale withdrawal that is a problem for Democrats.”

The latest SurveryUSA poll survey gives shows he has a 25-point edge among young voters, an 8-point lead with women and a 50-point edge among independents. An Oct. 9 Washington Post survey gave McDonnell a 59-38 lead among independents and Deeds a slim 2-point lead among women. And the most recent Rasmussen Reports survey says the two men are running about even among women and McDonnell holds “two-to-one lead” among independent voters, which make up about a third of the state’s electorate.

At a recent campaign rally in Northern Virginia, President Clinton tried to assure voters that Deeds was a comeback kid and the only poll that matters in the one on election day. And Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAullife vowed that Deeds was poised to mount, “the greatest comeback in the history of American politics, folks.”

But such efforts to shrug off the gloomy forecasts ignore the fact that the trend lines in Virginia’s pre-election polls have proven to be a reliable barometer of what’s to come election day.

Last year, in the final days before the presidential election, SurveyUSA showed Obama with an 11-point edge among women and an 18-point led among young voters, and trailed McCain by a single point among independents. Rasmussen Reports also showed McCain trailed by 10-points among women and that Obama’s support was highest amongst younger voters.

In a Nov. 6, 2006 SurveyUSA poll, Webb led Allen 57-39 among women, 49-44 among young voters and 59-33 among independents. A Nov. 2, 2006 Ramussen Reports poll gave Webb an 51-47 edge among women, 63-37 edge among young voters and 53-40 edge among independents.

It was more of the same in the 2005 gubernatorial race between Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore. In a Nov. 7, 2005 poll, Kaine held a 16-point lead among women, an 11-point lead among young voters and an 18-point lead among Independents. A Nov. 2, 2005 Rasmussen Reports poll showed Kaine with a one point edge among women, a 9-point edge among young voters and a 9-point edge among Independents.

So why the electoral shift?

Analysts say McDonnell has run a smart campaign by clearly outlining his plans to increase jobs and improve both transportation and education. Holsworth also said McDonnell has also “masterful job” of showing shown how Democrats policies on the national level — cap-and-trade, card check and health care reform — could impact Virginia.

The strategy has fit neatly into voters’ overarching concerns about “the level of spending, the likelihood of more taxes, the concern that the government at the federal level is not very disciplined,” Holsworth said. “Instead of offering a new way of doing politics, there is a sense that Obama has exacerbated the old ways rather than come in as a reformer.”

Add to that, Kaine’s new gig as DNC chair has made it even easier for McDonnell to tie his opponent to what happens on the other side of the Potomac.

Meanwhile, the Deeds campaign has also shot itself in the foot.

Frank Atkinson, a Richmond lawyer and Republican insider, explained it well in an op-ed in The Post.

"After a decade in which the Mark Warner-led Virginia Democrats elected back-to-back governors by playing down the culture wars and focusing on quality-of-life concerns, the man who seeks to succeed them appears headed in the opposite direction," Atkinson wrote. "Creigh Deeds’s campaign has talked up abortion issues and is suddenly abuzz over a two-decades-old graduate thesis in which McDonnell wrote rather longingly of days when government policy was more friendly to stay-at-home moms and traditional families."

Deeds, in hopes of driving out voters, particularly in the liberal leading Northern Virginia suburbs, has tried to use the thesis to cast McDonnell as a social extremist who opposes abortion, birth control and women in the workplace. But, other than a short term gain in the polls, the message does not seem to be resonating.

Perhaps the most hurtful political moment for Deeds was when he was videotaped bumbling through questions from reporters about whether he would raise taxes. Since then, Republicans have have questioned Deeds’ sincerity, spending millions to highlight using awkward exchange to in television and warning voters he will raise taxes should get elected.

Last, but not least, the two candidates present noticeable stylistic differences. Deeds’ down-home style and a country accent have not fared well against the smooth talking McDonnell. (Deeds admitted as much in a recent debate, saying, "I’m not the most eloquent speaker, but, like Harry Truman, I tell the truth and work hard to get things done.”)

“Bob is very personable guy, he is very good at one on one, and he really engages people in conversation,” Hardy said. “He is just a really likable guy and that’s why I think a lot of independence are going in his direction.”

"So, when you compare the two candidate side by side, there is a clear someone looks like a governor and someone who does not look like a governor.”

Deeds it seems is hoping for a miracle. It is not unheard of. Kaine and Webb came-from-behind in their races. But, at this point in the campaign, they were basically running neck-and-neck with or were ahead of their Republican rivals.

Deeds, on the other hand, still is playing catchup.

“He is very far behind,” Holsworth said. “He has to hope for massive, 11th hour blast. A mobilization of Democratic base – something that has yet to occur. It is going to be very, very difficult for him.”