5.12.2008

Southern polls: North Carolina and Virginia will be battlegrounds

The West Virginia primary feels very much like Mississippi's on March 11th. It comes the week after a major Election Day and there is no suspense, hardly even on the margin of victory. 24 hours from polls opening, a new poll from WV combined to a poll from Kentucky (which votes next Tuesday) confirms how difficult the Appalachians region is for Obama and how disastrous those two states' results could be:

  • In West Virginia, Suffolk University shows Clinton leading 60% to 24% for Obama. That's 71% of the two-person vote, more than what Clinton got in Arkansas.
  • While Clinton has a favorability rating of 70%, only 44% of Democrats have a favorable impression of him.
  • Update: SUSA has released a new poll from Kentucky as well, finding Clinton ahead 62% to 30%, a 2:1 margin which is actually a 2% progression for Obama! In Eastern Kentucky, the Appalachian region bordering West Virginia, Clinton gets 84%! Could Obama fail to reach the viability level in a district?
Those numbers might seem excessive but they are certainly realistic. Not only are they confirmed by other polls but they also conform to what we have been seeing in districts surrounding West Virginia in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and in which Clinton routinely got 70%. Of the 5 counties of Ohio that border West Virginia, Clinton crossed 70% in 4 of them and got more than 77% in 3.

Obama's difficulty in winning these regions -- whether linked to racism or whether due to the primary's class-divide, with blue-collar voters dominating these regions being Clinton's base -- probably make West Virginia and Kentucky lost causes in the general election: With only 44% of Democrats having a favorable impression of him in WV, Obama has no path to a majority. That's not a concern in Kentucky but Democrats might have been looking to put West Virginia in play, as it had long been a blue state before increasingly turning red starting in 2000.

Note, however, that a series of polls taken this fall had Clinton and Edwards looking stunningly competitive in Kentucky, often leading Republicans, while Obama struggled (for example this one). As I have noted many times, both Democrats have regions of the country in which they would be clearly stronger than the other, and this is one Obama is weaker in. The Research 2000 poll referenced above also included some general election numbers with Clinton struggling but performing 13 percent better than Obama in Kentucky:

  • McCain leads Clinton 53% to 41% and leads Obama 58% to 33%. Bush beat Kerry 60% to 40% in 2004.
Meanwhile, three new polls today show that Democrats would be very competitive in Virginia and in North Carolina, two states the GOP has not thought about in recent elections but which it could now have a lot of trouble defending:

  • In Virginia, Rasmussen finds McCain leading Obama 47% to 44% and Clinton 47% to 41%. That's a great improvement for Dems since the end of March where their numbers had fallen to trailing by double-digits.
  • Obama's favorability rating (51%) is lower than McCain's but he has more viewing him "very favorably".
  • In North Carolina, Rasmussen finds similar results, with McCain leading both Democrats by 3 percent, 47% to 44% against Obama and 43% to 40% against Clinton. That's an improvement for Clinton but actually a slight drop for Obama who was tied with McCain in the last poll.
  • Finally, Public Policy Polling released a poll from North Carolina as well, confirming that hte race is competitive without being quite as positive for Democrats than Rasmussen: McCain leads Obama 49% to 42% while Clinton trails 46% to 38%.
Virginia has been expected to be a swing state given the state's rapidly changing demographics and the Democrats' statewide success in recent years (Kaine, Webb). North Carolina is more of a surprise, after Democrats failed to put it in play in 2004 despite picking Edwards as their vice-presidential candidate. There is no question that forcing the GOP to defend both would be a great victory for Obama, but we should soon move beyond surprise that the state is competitive and start giving McCain credit for still being ahead. After all, Virginia and Colorado are two states who think of as red that the Obama campaign puts at the top of its priorities.

Two Senate surveys came with the polls listed above and they both bring good news for Democrats:

  • Rasmussen confirms that Mark Warner is heavily favored to pick up Virginia's senate seat, as he leads Jim Gilmore 55% to 37%. 37% have a very favorable impression of Warner, and 29% have a somewhat favorable one (Gilmore's numbers are 15-33). It's hard to beat those numbers.
  • More interestingly, PPP released numbers from the North Carolina Senate race. They find Elizabeth Dole leading 48% to 43% against Democrat Kay Hagan.
PPP's numbers are better for Dole than Rasmussen's shocking survey last week finding Hagan leading by 1%. But every poll that shows Dole this vulnerable is still a surprise. Hagan is considered a second-tier candidate at best, and few signs pointed to Democrats making it this tight this quickly with this little effort. Given that NC is (was?) about 10th on the Democrats' priority list, they will certainly take any poll that shows Dole under 50% and leading by single-digits.

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9 Comments:

  • Each candidate will have states that they will do well in and others that they have no chance to win. The reasons for this are, for the most part, the result of each states demographics and events that occur during the campaign. No question West Virginia and Kentucky are losers for Obama but he will bring other states into play where McCain plays badly. The head to head polls will vary with each media brewhaha but a well run campaign, such as Obama has run against Clinton, will stay on message and overcome most media driven crisis.

    By Anonymous fritz, At 12 May, 2008 13:38  

  • Fritz is right some states Obama will do very well in and others Clinton will do very well. Kentucky is not a swing state, even Clinton would lose by 12% against McCain so it is pretty irrelevant in the GE.

    North Carolina is trending the same way as Virginia but I would expect it to take 1-2 more election cycles before it flips in a Presidential race. But it is a good state for Obama to keep McCain on defense so he has less resources on Wisconsin, Oregon and other weakly held Dem states.

    Edwards did not help Kerry in 2004 because a) Edwards was no that popular, barely won his senate seat and saw he would lose at the end of his 6 year term so he jumped b) he did not campaign much down here and c) Kerry was viewed much more harshly than Obama is

    Also in the past four years the demographics have moved to helped the Dems in both Virginia and North Carolina. As each year passes the demographics improve (more immigration from the north, more educated people etc)

    By Anonymous Guy, At 12 May, 2008 14:57  

  • Interesting that PPP confirms Rasmussen's findings that Hagan is close to Dole in the NC senate race (Rasmussen had Dole leading by 1%). Dole is vulnerable since an incumbent having less than 50% is a bad sign. I think this will encourage the DNC to support Hagan. She is in a stronger position than Webb in Virgina, 2006 and we know how that turned out.

    If the Dems want to get close to 60 seats they need NC. It would also signal NC's journey towards voting for a Democrat in the presidential race

    By Anonymous Guy, At 12 May, 2008 15:00  

  • Unfortunately it seems like racism is the primary reason why Obama will lose in WV both in the primary and the GE. I saw many reports saying that voters in WV won't vote for Obama because of his middle name or because it makes them uncomfortable to vote for a white man. I do think that Obama will do better in the KY primary primarly because of demographics (8% of Kentucky is black acording to that Research 2000 poll while I saw a AP report stating that WV is 95% white). Also according to Research 2000, Obama is only viewed a little less favorably among primary voters in KY compared to Clinton, so maybe he can close the gap a little. However, a big victory for Obama in KY would be a 10% loss to Clinton: Clinton is more likely to get a 17-20% victory in KY.

    NC and VA are good news for democratics, especially VA because many polls before today seemed to indicate that VA was lasping back into its regular GOP safe pattern. It is interesting that Clinton is only doing slightly worse in Obama in these states, considering that Obama makes these states out to be ones only he can win in the GE. I wonder if Clinton will use these polls to bolster her arguments that she is indeed more electiable, being strong in states that Obama is supposly stronger in and Obama having no chance in states that Clinton does very good in (Arkasans and West Virginia for example).

    I think that the VA race is no longer a likely turnover, to me it is now a guarented or "safe" turnover. I don't think I even seen a poll with Gilmore's support being above 40%. It really is sad for the Virginia GOP; if Tom Davis had been in the race he would have still been the underdog but he would still have a chance. Gilmore unforantely has no chance.

    On NC I think Kagen is going to get alot of DSCC cash very soon.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 12 May, 2008 16:33  

  • As a current native of rural W.V. I can tell you many think Obama is a Muslim-Al Queda-etc.And no amount of commercials will convince them otherwise. It's a state of inbred,ignorant, redneck, racists hillbillies.And it's why Jesus wasn't born here, they couldn't find three wise men and a virgin.

    By Anonymous mpd, At 12 May, 2008 17:09  

  • If the question regarding Hillary's huge lead in WV and other Appalachian areas is whether it's: "...linked to racism or whether due to the primary's class-divide"...Well, let me just say that you won't find a much more rural, white, and working-class state than my Maine...where Obama won handily...so I don't think the problem in WV is the class divide...hmmm, what was the other choice again?

    By Blogger Mainiac, At 12 May, 2008 18:03  

  • Maine is better educated in general than WV. WV has the lowest percentage of college graduates of all 50 states!

    VA is more in play than NC but since they are neighboring states and the GOP shows some weakness in NC it is certainly worth Obama campaigning and advertising ion both states. Logistically easier since they are together and overlap of ad buys.

    By Anonymous Mike, At 12 May, 2008 18:48  

  • Racism has definitely permeated into our society. I cannot speak for West Virginians, but in North Carolina (where Obama won handily), there is definitely a remnant of the ole dixicrat party from the George Wallace era. I think that a percentage of the older Democrats in the South tend to be more conservative, which would lend them away from Obama and Clinton. In NC, I think there is as much of a racial issue as it is a gender issue--a lot of the older men simply refuse to vote for Hillary.

    To go to maniac's inference, he makes a very valid point. Same group of people, and 2 different outcomes. I don't know if there are any other differences between Maine and West Virginia, except WV is the poorest state in the union.

    By Anonymous Jim West, At 12 May, 2008 18:51  

  • Mike,

    I agree that VA is more in play than NC. Northern Virginia has become more Democratic in the last few years. The Southern part of the state tends to be more rural, and the rural areas are where the Dems have not done well throughout the US (with limited exceptions, of course).

    By Anonymous Jim West, At 12 May, 2008 18:53  

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