By Paul Goldman
Once again, a respected public opinion poll seems to find a statistically significant number of Virginians either voting Obama-Allen or surprisingly undecided in the Kaine-Allen senate race even though they like Kaine. As Lowell has pointed out, the latest Washington Post poll gives the President a statistically significant lead in Virginia, while the same poll has the Kaine-Allen race as a dead heat.
What is going on in the minds of Virginians?
There are three general possibilities.
First, but for Obama’s strong showing, Democrat Kaine might be running significantly behind Republican Allen. This would mean that the Obama-Allen voter is really not a voter leaving Kaine, but an independent/independent-leaning voter actually predisposed toward Allen. There would be more of them except that Obama is pulling a good number to Kaine. If this were true, then what appears to be an Obama voter slippage to Allen would actually be an Allen voter slippage to Kaine. In my reading of the polls and political election history, I dismiss this possibility.
Second, the Obama-Allen voter could be what it appears to be, someone who likes Obama and likes Allen, with nothing much Kaine can do about the situation. Perhaps they now find both the President and former Senator as better on national security issues, or they happen to think Allen did a better job as Governor than Kaine or they regret not having Allen as Senator these past six years. In other words: this voter likes both guys and, as the song goes, “that’s my story and I am sticking to it.” I ain’t buying this one either.
That leaves the third general explanation: there are currently a considerable number of pro-Obama voters who aren’t really pro-Obama. They would prefer, all other things being equal, to vote for the Republican candidate for President. But they don’t see such an equality developing among any of the better known potential GOP nominees, thus they are resigned right now to voting for the President even though they don’t support his policies. This is the key: their vote is more anti-GOP than it is pro-Obama. Under this explanation, these Obama-Allen voters are voting for the President but in reality they don’t really support his policies. Thus, they are voting for Allen as a way of making sure Obama can’t enact what the voter feels is bad policy. In today’s parlance, it is a voter who wants divided government so each side is blocked.
This possibility would explain why an uptick in Obama’s support post-the Osama Kill didn’t translate into any extra support for Tim Kaine. The Osama-Kill helped make it easier for these “lesser of the evil” Obama voters to support for his re-election, feeling that in foreign policy, he might be better than they had thought. But it doesn’t fundamentally change their anti-Obama policy views, since those are rooted in domestic concerns over taxation/deficits/government spending/health care law — the basic litany of George Allen’s anti-Obamacon riff.
Net, net: right now, the Obama-Allen voter, or perhaps more accurately the “Obama-I probably need to make sure the Senate doesn’t back Obama’s policies” voter, is the margin of victory in the Kaine-Allen race.
While a problem for Kaine right now, I think if this dynamic continues, it works to Kaine’s advantage over time. Why? Because it is based on the GOP’s failure to nominate a candidate that these pro Obama-Allen voters like. If this proves to be true – and it seems likely right now – then it means the President should be able to carry Virginia by at least the same margin as in 2008.
Under that scenario, it is doubtful a respected and well-liked former Governor like Tim Kaine, with a solid campaign, would lose. This type of situation will discourage GOP voters to come out and encourage Democrats to make sure the President gets a second term. A good Kaine campaign will be able to hold the “ballot falloff” – the drop in vote from the Presidential line to the Senate line – to a minimum.
Ironically then, the Obama-Allen voter syndrome we see in May of 2011 actually spells trouble for Allen unless he adjusts his campaign. Why? Because human nature being what it is, those lukewarm Obama voters will become more comfortable with their pro-Obama vote over time as they resign themselves to the situation. They will be turned off at the margins by the anti-Obamacon litany from the GOP, since it will seem both shrill and pointless given that the GOP nominee is going to lose.
Bottom line: Kaine’s big worry isn’t the Obama-Allen voter. It is the Obama-McDonnell voter from 2009. If George Allen ever decides to stop running as Senator Reload from the past, and instead tries to adopt a more McDonnell image, then he has a chance to tap into that big poll of voters.
If Kaine figures out the right appeal to a substantial number of those voters – clearly, there are a lot of McDonnell-Kaine voters right now, since the Republican got 59% in 2009 – he figures to win handily.
It’s interesting, by the way, that while the polls show McDonnell having a decent image among the key swing voters in Virginia elections, the tie race between Allen and Kaine suggests neither of them have a strong image with this same group of voters.
That’s why McDonnell on the national GOP ticket for VEEP is the biggest threat to Kaine’s winning. At that point, even George Allen will stop trying to be The Boss [I’m referring specifically to the song “Glory Days”] and actually join the rest of us in the 21st century.
The best thing scenario now for Kaine would be for the Republicans to nominate Mike Huckabee for President. He can’t really play outside the Deep South and super GOP states. Moreover, he won’t pick a Southerner for a running mate. Allen will be on the Huckabee-TPaw ticket and it will go down in flames here in Virginia, taking Allen and others with it.