The Obama-Allen Voter vs. the McDonnell-Kaine voter

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    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.  

    • Dan Sullivan

      It is subtle, but the current story shared in many ways and venues is that McDonnell inherited problems from Kaine who was not a very effective executive. The money found laying around the Department of Transportation through McDonnell’s scrutiny of the books and the like. Roads are being repaired that should not have waited, they would contend. That is a small part of all the efficiencies implemented by McDonnell, who balanced an unbalanced budget left him by Kaine. Kaine was a fine fellow who could have done better, but after all, he was missing in action the last year of his term while tending to the duties of DNC.

      It doesn’t matter how inaccurate these inferences are, they have not been effectively countered just yet. They are a double edged sword for both McDonnell and Allen. The case that Republicans have not accomplished much in Virginia other than winning the redistricting battle will ring true by 2012. So the soft support for Kaine can be solidified and built upon. Plus, he has the President, and as you say, Allen may end up with not much in the way of coattails to cling to.

    • listlady

      were seduced in 2009 by McDonnell’s successful posturing as a moderate. One key to retrieving those voters for Kaine is to keep painting McDonnell in his real colors.

      An even larger group may be the Obama-nonvoters, those who dropped out in 2009. McDonnell’s win in 2009 was largely a failure of Democratic GOTV, with a huge dropoff in the Democratic vote compared to 2005. That includes both longtime Dems who got turned off by the Deeds campaign, and the 2008 “Obama surge” voters not drawn to state and local races. Energizing those will be crucial next year.

    • FreeDem

      So let me get this straight. The biggest disaster for the Republicans/best scenario for Tim Kaine would be for the GOP to nominate Mike Huckabee, the guy who receives one of the highest levels of support in the poll. Because a guy with a Southern accent could never, ever win Virginia?

      And you want to focus on Obama-McDonnell voters, trying to figure out how to take a record high turnout in 2008 and overlap it with the low turnout of a gubernatorial election in 2009?

      There was a 14 point swing in the 2009 electoral from differences in turnout. Among the actual 2009 electoral there were around 5% of voters who came out, had voted for Obama, and voted for McDonnell. Around 3% did the reverse, having voted for McCain and then voted for Deeds. I think the large, large number of people who voted for Obama and didn’t turn out in 2009 are more significant than the smaller group that voted for Obama and McDonnell.

      Certainly Obama is picking up the support of independents who might like him as a person but don’t entirely agree with all of his policies. Against a weak, very weak, Republican field they’ll be pushed to Obama and may be neutral or even outright Allen in the polls right now.

      But if the GOP actually nominates a weak candidate and Obama looks on track to win both Virginia and the election, you’ll be sure to see a big shift of independents who want to balance Obama’s mandate with an independent Senator. Right now Allen looks like a much better pick for these fickle independents than Kaine.

      Kaine left his job as Governor early to become Obama’s national cheerleader. He had no major accomplishments as Governor. He has every negative possible for a Democrat running statewide in Virginia. It’s hard to see any slippage from the Republican Presidential candidate to Allen. Instead, it’s all about who picks up Obama’s voters. And remember that these are voters aren’t political junkies like us. They read about the Republicans and Democrats coming together for a tax plan in late 2010 and they assume if both parties agree it must be good. Kaine doesn’t have the credibility to appear independent to these folks.

      Worse, I worry that Kaine’s campaign, dominated by Warner’s people, will be afraid of stepping it up a notch and running in a way that gets the attention of the Obama surge voters. It’s hard, even as a statewide candidate, to break through the noise during an election and actually get a voter’s attention in a meaningful way. Kaine looks like just another politician (and Obama does not) so it’s going to be harder for him to make sure that younger voters and minorities stick with him down ballot.