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

Friday, November 04, 2005

Mason-Dixon: Kaine 45, Kilgore 44, Potts 4; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

With four days to go, the 2005 race for governor is shaping up to be among the closest ever.

A Mason-Dixon poll conducted for The Northern Virginia Daily and other newspapers this week found Democrat Tim Kaine with a 1-point lead over Republican Jerry Kilgore — still a statistical dead heat and well within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error.

Some 45 percent of voters support Kaine while 44 percent say they back Kilgore, according to the poll. Independent candidate state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, finishes a distant third with 4 percent.

Potts’ support has eroded to a point where even his potential to be a spoiler is all but gone, said J. Bradford Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research.

“He’s taking a few more Republicans than Democrats, but not enough in my opinion to be that much of a spoiler,” Coker said.

Kaine holds significant leads in Northern Virginia, 53 percent to 37 percent, and in Hampton Roads, 48 percent to 42 percent.

But Kilgore is far and away the choice outside of those two urban centers, with one exception. Traditional GOP stronghold Richmond — Kaine’s home turf — remains almost evenly divided at 44 percent for Kilgore, 42 percent for Kaine. Potts also pulls in his largest share here with 7 percent.

The Republican leads in Southwest Virginia, 51 percent to 39 percent; Lynchburg and Southside, 51 percent to 40 percent; and in the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont, 52 percent to 39 percent.

“In terms of polling, I think this is the closest [gubernatorial race] we’ve had going into the final weekend,” Coker said.

Camp Kaine can take comfort in the fact that they’re up by 1 point, but late surges in Virginia often favor the GOP.

If there’s a late surge, that is.

“It hasn’t happened yet, which is probably a good sign for Kaine, because typically when they’ve blown out at the end, they’ve typically blown out for Republicans,” Coker said.

The only race that compares in terms of closeness is the 1989 contest between Democrat L. Douglas Wilder and Republican J. Marshall Coleman. That contest was decided in Wilder’s favor by less than 1 percent.

Republicans tend to finish strongly in Virginia, Coker said. The last Mason-Dixon poll in 1989 found Wilder up by 4 percent.

Two Republicans, Jim Gilmore and George Allen, both surged late in their run to the Governor’s Mansion.

“Those races were kind of tight,” Coker said. “Gilmore and Allen had narrow leads, and then about 10 days out it started going their way. You could see the change in the last poll where Allen went from maybe a 3- or 4-point lead to about an 8- or 9-point lead, and they end up winning by 14 or 15.”

But that’s not a guarantee. Just ask former Attorney General Mark Earley, who didn’t get the late surge and was defeated by incumbent Gov. Mark R. Warner by some 5 percentage points.

So far, 2005 has been a unique electoral creature.

“This is a strange race,” Coker said. “You’ve still got 7 percent that don’t know which way they’re going. [That’s] a little on the high side.”

Warner’s high approval numbers may have something to do with it.

“There’s obviously some torn loyalties out there,” he said. “I think you’ve got conservative independent, maybe even Republican-leaning voters who like what Warner is doing and want to vote for Kaine or have a problem with Kilgore and can’t quite figure out which way they want to go.”

Both campaigns took the news in stride.

“I think what you’re seeing is a race that’s neck and neck,” said Delacey Skinner, Kaine’s press secretary. “Most of the public polls that have come out it here recently show that it’s going to be too close to call.”

Meanwhile at Camp Kilgore, staffers said it was close, but that the campaign would be won on the ground.

“We have everything in position on the ground to make the final push so that Virginians will wake up on Nov. 9 to a Governor-elect Jerry Kilgore,” said spokesman Tim Murtaugh.

“We firmly believe and see no reason to doubt it that we have the superior ground game.”

Election Day is Tuesday.