Virginia looks to be Barack Obama’s “firewall state” in 2012, according to Public Policy Polling — but take that with a grain of salt. As Guy Benson tweeted, “PPP says Obama is leading comfortably in Virginia, which flies [in] the face of … every single thing that has happened in Virginia since 2008.”
Nevertheless, the polls show what the polls show. An excerpt from the executive summary:
Right now we find Obama on positive ground in the state with 48% of voters approving of him to 47% who disapprove. He won Virginia by 6 points against John McCain so his net approval of +1 basically suggests a 5 point decline for him from his 2008 standing. To put that in context he won the national popular vote by 7 points and our national poll this week put his approval at a -10 spread (42/52), for a 17 point decline nationally. His numbers are holding up much better in Virginia than most anywhere else.
What sets Obama’s numbers apart in Virginia is that it’s a rare place where Democrats (89%) are more unified in their approval of him than Republicans (87%) are in their disapproval. A lot of Obama’s trouble nationally is being caused by Democrats abandoning ship but in Virginia he has a very strong base behind him.
Obama leads both Mitt Romney (48-42) and Newt Gingrich (50-43) by margins comparable to his 6 point victory over John McCain in 2008. He leads both of them with independents- Romney by 4 and Gingrich by 8. And between the two match ups he’s picking up as many Republicans as he’s losing Democrats, again something we just aren’t seeing in very many places.
Furthermore, PPP says, Obama continues to enjoy particular popularity among a couple key demographics that helped to ensure his election in the first place. With African American voters, he’s ahead of Romney 87-10 and ahead of Gingrich 89-10. Among young voters, he’s up 55-33 on Romney and 57-35 on Gingrich.
Frankly, grain of salt aside, these numbers do make me nervous. Yes, under the leadership of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, Virginia has adopted a number of significant conservative policies, particularly in the education realm. And, yes, in the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans picked up a couple seats.
But Virginia will be a battleground state in 2012. Not only did Obama win it in 2008, but the results of the 2010 midterm elections there sent mixed messages, as well. To me, the takeaway from PPP’s numbers is that neither Obama nor the GOP should take Virginia for granted. For all that Obama has failed to lead as president, he hasn’t failed to prioritize his reelection campaign. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The GOP candidates need to have a strategy in place to peel away — not just Democrats in a general sense — but pragmatic millennial voters from the Obama coalition. For that, it’d help if the GOP could nominate a particularly charismatic candidate — but, even in the absence of a compelling personality, the GOP can hammer home the link between fiscal responsibility and jobs in a way that should appeal to young voters.