The Top Story by Chris Graham
Virginia wasn’t at all on Scott Rasmussen’s radar screen.
The polling-firm head and Fox News Channel regular had been tracking several battleground states in the walkup to the 2004 presidential election.
The Old Dominion, which has voted Republican in the past nine presidential-election cycles, wasn’t on that list at the outset of the ’04 campaign, Rasmussen told The Augusta Free Press.
It is now – as one of the nine states that the political analyst lists on his Rasmussen Report as being a toss-up.
“It’s definitely one of the big surprises of this election to date,” Rasmussen said.
The surprise: that President Bush leads Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in Virginia by a mere three points in the latest Rasmussen poll.
According to the most recent Rasmussen Report data, which was released on Tuesday, Bush has a slim 49-46 lead over Kerry in the Commonwealth.
Two percent were listed as having expressed a preference for other; 3 percent said they are undecided at this point.
The numbers are such a surprise that Rasmussen said he doesn’t have an explanation for what is going on.
Neither can Rasmussen explain the gap between the president’s approval rating in Virginia – 54 percent, according to the Tuesday Rasmussen Report update – and his 49 percent support from the electorate.
That could be a sign that voters who would normally be expected to pull the lever for Bush are thinking about voting for Kerry, Rasmussen said.
Gov. Mark Warner has some ideas as to why that might be. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the Democrat and Kerry confidante said the John Kerry-John Edwards national ticket is enjoying what he termed “unprecedented business support” in Virginia and across the country.
“I think there’s been more support shown by the business community for the Kerry-Edwards ticket at this stage of the campaign than even Bill Clinton enjoyed at a similar stage in his first campaign in 1992,” Warner said.
The reason for that is clear, the governor said.
“The deficit is the unspoken issue of this campaign,” Warner said, noting the projected $445 billion federal budget deficit for the current fiscal year.
“If a Democratic administration had taken a $236 billion surplus and turned it around in four years into a record budget deficit, it would surely be the issue driving this campaign,” Warner said.
Warner praised Kerry’s plan for reducing the deficit – which in part calls for restoring pre-Bush tax rates on people making more than $200,000 a year, at an estimated boost to the national treasury of $100 billion annually.
“Unless we can get the deficit under control, it’s going to be hard for America to remain competitive,” Warner said.
Warner is coming off a major political victory that could serve as a blueprint for Kerry’s economic-policy future – reaching across the aisle to secure the support of moderate Republicans to enact tax reforms aimed at providing money for core public services, most notably public education.
“In Virginia, it’s been the Democratic Party that has been the party of fiscal responsibility. We worked with Republicans, moderate Republicans, and independents, on efforts to reform our tax code, and we had the unanimous support of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce for that effort,” Warner said.
“The Kerry-Edwards approach is very similar. They need to look at the Bush tax cuts and whether or not they can be afforded for the long haul, at the top levels,” Warner said.
Republican Party of Virginia chair Kate Obenshain Griffin cast doubts on Warner’s claims that the Democrats in Virginia have had much if anything to do with the economic turnaround here.
“Virginia’s economy is one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation with a budget surplus that is well over $300 million. This improvement is the direct result of President Bush’s tax-relief plan to put more money in families’ pockets and encourage businesses to grow and invest,” Obenshain Griffin said.
“John Kerry has a credibility problem with Virginia voters, and his liberal policies would reverse our current economic rebound. His budget figures don’t add up, and he still can’t explain how he will pay for his costly campaign proposals,” Obenshain Griffin said.
That issue – the credibility issue – could come back to hurt Kerry as we get closer to Election Day, said Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave.
“I’ve been telling people that you have to look at John Kerry’s record compared to President Bush’s record. The president is consistent. He tells you what he’s going to do, and he does it. John Kerry tells you one thing, then does another, then says the issues are complex,” said Landes, the chairman of the Republican Party caucus in the House of Delegates.
“It’s important to me that people are held accountable for what they say and do. I think that’s something that’s important for a lot of people,” Landes told the AFP.
“Basically, he’s applying for a job, and when you’re hiring somebody for a job, you look at their record of what they’ve done in the past to try to determine what they will do in the future. John Kerry’s record of liberal policies from his views on economics on down speaks volumes,” Landes said.
The voters might be seeing that already – state GOP party spokesman Shawn Smith said the polling numbers that have Kerry trailing the president in Virginia “indicate once again that John Kerry failed to connect with Virginians and Americans during the Democratic convention.”
“It’s the first time since George McGovern in 1972 that a challenger hasn’t received a boost from his party convention in the polls,” Smith told the AFP.
“Virginians are very excited and looking forward to the opportunity to support President Bush in his bid for re-election, and the Republican Party has put together one of the finest grassroots organizations in the country to help get out the vote. We are confident that President Bush will win Virginia’s electoral votes in November,” Smith said.
Virginia Democratic Party spokesperson Laura Bland, for her part, isn’t ready to predict a sweeping Kerry victory in November right yet.
“Polls are so superficial and fluid. It’s only Aug. 3, so it’s hard to get too excited about where things stand right now. The only poll number that counts is the one at the end of the day on Nov. 2,” Bland told the AFP.
“That said, I do think that this will serve to counter the spin that the Republicans have been trying to feed the public, the news media and the political pundits that Virginia is so solidly in the Republican column that they might as well call off the election,” Bland said.