Analysis: Is Mark Warner in trouble?

A poll released last week by Christopher Newport University has Democrat Mark Warner ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie by 2014 as the attention turns slowly toward the November U.S. Senate race.

mark-warnerThe poll had Warner at 50 percent and Gillespie, making his first bid for elected office, at 30 percent, largely because Gillespie is unknown to Virginia voters.

Seven in 10 voters have no opinion of Gillespie, according to the poll.

“The odds heavily favor Sen. Warner, but he clearly has work to do to make the case to voters between now and November,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

That’s good advice from Kidd, that Warner has work to do to make his case. Because Gillespie will become more known as the seasons change from winter to spring to summer to fall, and he will be on the attack early and often, trying to pin everything in terms of troubles in the second term of the Obama administration, from the botched rollout of the website to, well, did we mention that botched rollout of the website?

Warner is about as close to Teflon as there has ever been in Virginia politics. He left the governor’s office as the most popular governor ever, and won his 2008 Senate race against another former governor, Jim Gilmore, in a 30-point landslide.

But a lot has happened since then. Barack Obama won the state in his 2012 re-election, and Tim Kaine won the 2012 Senate race, but while Democrats swept the statewide races in 2013, the races for governor and attorney general were too close for comfort, with borderline extremist Ken Cuccinelli carrying the flag at the top of the ticket to boot.

Virginia remains a competitive state politically, and it is in this environment that Warner will be forced to defend the record of the Obama administration, whether he wants to or not.

The race might be 20 points now, but it will be single digits by the end of the summer, and thus anybody’s game.

Column by Chris Graham

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