Virginia voters give Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds (29 percent) a slight lead over opponents Terry McAuliffe (26 percent), and Brian Moran (23 percent), leading up to the June 9 Primary, with a significant 22 percent still undecided. The poll shows that all three candidates are within the statistical margin of error and any one of them could ultimately emerge as the Democrat to face Republican Bob McDonnell in November.

Deeds lead fluid

"What makes this race even tougher to call is that when undecided voters statewide were prodded to choose one of the three candidates, many were breaking to McAuliffe and, to a lesser extent, Moran," said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University in Boston. "With the remaining undecided at 22 percent, the Deeds lead could be fluid, and the final tally could hinge on last-minute campaign ads, momentum, the weather, and get-out-the-vote efforts from all the candidates."

Of the three candidates, Deeds was the most popular (38 percent favorable-9 percent unfavorable) and was seen as the candidate with more experience, leadership skills and concern about the problems facing Democratic voters responding to the poll. McAuliffe had the highest unfavorable rating, at 21 percent, but his favorable rating was close to that of Deeds at 37 percent. Moran came in at 33 percent favorable-5 percent unfavorable.
McAuliffe was viewed as the candidate who has run the most negative campaign. Still, 26 percent of voters see him as a slightly stronger challenger to Republican McDonnell, compared to Deeds, 25 percent, and Moran, 22 percent.

GOP preferences

Voters who consider themselves independents or Republicans are eligible to enter into the open primary in Virginia, and McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, led among self-identified Republicans with 29 percent, compared to 24 percent for Deeds, and 22 percent for Moran.

"This is interesting, given that Suffolk University polling in spring 2008 identified 'meddling' after conservative talk show hosts implored Republicans and independents to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and other states in a perceived effort to lengthen the divisive nomination process and prop up the weaker of the two candidates in the delegate counts," Paleologos said.

Half of voters said their choice was unaffected by a recent media report alleging that McAuliffe offered money to Ralph Nader to stay off the 2004 presidential ballot in certain swing states. Thirty-three percent said the allegations would make them less likely to vote for McAuliffe, while 10 percent said they would be more likely to vote for him.

Deeds led among most demographics, with McAuliffe a close second, except in the northeast Virginia area where Moran led McAuliffe 38 percent to 22 percent, reflecting home-turf advantage from the 8th Congressional District seat held by Moran's brother Jim.

Clinton effect

Former President Bill Clinton, who is supporting Terry McAuliffe, has widespread popularity (71 percent favorable - 19 percent unfavorable). Among voters undecided for Governor, Clinton's favorability was 69 percent favorable - 26 percent unfavorable.

In the Virginia Democratic Primary bellwether of Accomack County, the same tight spread was measured. Accomack County, which closely reflected statewide candidate trends in the Lieutenant Governor Democratic Primaries of 2001 and 2005 as well as the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary, showed Deeds leading with 26 percent, followed by McAuliffe and Moran, who were tied with 24 percent, with 23 percent undecided.

The economy/jobs was the most important issue (42 percent) followed by health care (20 percent) and education (11 percent).

Methodology

The Suffolk University statewide poll was conducted June 1 through June 3, 2009 using live interviewers. The margin of error on the study of 500 is +/- 4.4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. All respondents from the statewide survey were registered voters in Virginia who indicated they would vote in the Democratic Primary and could identify the correct timeframe of the Democratic Primary. The Virginia Democratic Primary Accomack County bellwether included 748 respondents phoned on June 2 and June 3, 2009. Marginals and 238 pages of cross-tabulation data will be posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site by noon June 4. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.