There's more evidence tonight that the Virginia governor's race shouldn't be interpreted as a referendum on President Obama. That doesn't mean that Democrats are out of the woods. As expected, Republican Bob McDonnell has a comfortable, eleven point lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds in the latest Washington Post poll. President Obama's approval rating is 54%, which suggests that a lot of folks who went to the polls for him in 2008 won't be bothered to vote for Deeds and / or that a number of Obama voters have decided to cast their ballot for McDonnell. The former explanation finds empirical support.
Obama's visit to Norfolk Tuesday illustrates the challenge: Just 49 percent of voters in the southeastern part of the state who supported Obama last year say they are certain to vote next week, compared with 73 percent of those who backed McCain. But two-thirds of all registered voters in the southeast approve of the way the president is handling his job.
Deeds's biggest problem is the enthusiasm chasm -- it's insufficient to call it a gap -- between Democrats and Republicans.
Deeds has also been unable to excite his supporters and close the dramatic enthusiasm gap McDonnell has held from the outset. About a quarter of Deeds's voters say they are supporting him "not too" or "not at all" enthusiastically. More than nine in 10 of those who back McDonnell are "very" or "fairly" enthusiastic about the Republican.
Independents, conservative in temperament to begin with in Virginia's off-year elections, have gotten over the shock of McDonnell's Victorian-era Masters Thesis and are now solidly behind him. Overall, voters are much more impressed with McDonnell on the critical subject of jobs. And they feel that Deeds is running a negative campaign.