The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Governor would win Senate bid, poll finds; A1

Potential Warner, Allen race close -- By Garren Shipley (Daily Staff Writer)

If the 2006 U.S. Senate election had been held last week — and Gov. Mark R. Warner was running — the results of a survey say the Democrat would defeat incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen.

A new poll by Mason-Dixon research commissioned by the Daily and other newspapers found that the potential race would be a hard-fought contest.

If a Warner-Allen contest were to materialize, Warner would win with 47 percent of the vote and Allen would get 42 percent.
Eleven percent remain undecided. The poll has a mar-gin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“Currently, Warner runs ahead of incumbent Republican George Al-len in a head-to-head match-up,” said J. Bradford Coker, Mason-Dixon’s managing director.

A Rasmussen Research poll last week found Warner defeating Allen 48 percent to 44 percent.

Warner’s high popularity numbers would be a great springboard from which to launch a bid for the Senate, according to pundits following the possible race.

The current governor has the highest approval ratings of any recent governor at this point in his term — 74 percent say Warner is doing either an “excellent” or “good” job, according to the poll.

However, it is his strength among self-described “independent” voters and in Southwest Virginia, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that gives him the edge, Coker said.

“Most importantly, Warner would enter the race with higher personal popularity than Allen,” he said. “Statewide, 56 percent have a favorable opinion of Warner, while 51 percent have a favorable opinion of Allen.”

Allen also has higher unfavorable ratings — 23 percent versus Warner’s 14 percent.

Analysts are divided over whether Warner will in fact enter the fray.

Warner has formed a federal political action committee that could lay the groundwork for a run for federal office.

“Many observers feel Warner will pass on the 2006 Senate race, and instead focus on a 2008 presidential bid,” Coker said.

Larry Sabato, a political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in Charlottesville, said that Warner’s true ambition is for the White House and it’s all but certain that he won’t run in 2006.

Warner spoke to the moderate Democratic Leadership Council’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, giving what reads almost like a campaign kick-off speech.

“We as Democrats neglect the heartland at our own peril,” Warner said. “We saw it in 2004, when the electoral map was a sea of red, with a few blue edges.”

“So, if the Democratic Party believes that it is OK to continue to rely on a strategy of winning 16 states, and then somehow hitting a triple bank shot to win a 17th — we’re making a huge mistake,” he said.

A number of other possible presidential contenders, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., addressed the group.

But then again, maybe he will, according to Craig Brians, a professor of political science at Virginia Tech.

“Presidential” buzz is a great thing to have on your side if you’re planning to run for a lower office, Brians said. Warner’s entire White House operation may be just an effort to raise his stock as high as possible before announcing his second bid for the Senate.

Warner challenged Virginia’s other member of the Senate, Republican Sen. John Warner, in 1996.

While Warner and his staff continue to insist that his only political ambition at the moment is to finish his term successfully, Allen isn’t taking any chances.

“Governor Warner would be a very formidable opponent,” Allen’s 2006 campaign manager, Jason Miller, said. “That’s why Senator Allen is focused on fundraising so early this year.”

The former governor raised almost $2.5 million in the second quarter of this year.

Allen also has some significant presidential buzz surrounding him. With Vice President Dick Cheney expressing no interest in higher office, the GOP has no heir apparent in line to succeed President Bush.

Virginians aren’t terribly enthused at the idea of having either man seeking the presidency, according to Coker. Only 42 percent of those polled said they thought Warner or Allen should run.

Should either man be nominated, 55 percent said they’d vote for Warner, 47 percent said they’d back Allen — “hardly signs of overwhelming desire for a favorite-son candidacy,” Coker said.