- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

A new poll puts Sen. Charles S. Robb and former Gov. George F. Allen in a dead heat in their race for Mr. Robb's seat, prompting both campaigns to reiterate they expect a close race.

The Commonwealth Poll, sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University, shows 41 percent of likely voters supporting Mr. Allen, the Republican, and 40 percent supporting Mr. Robb, a Democrat.

Still, both campaigns played down the significance of one poll this early in the season.

"I think what you take away from this poll is it's close and it's early," said Tim Murtaugh, Mr. Allen's campaign spokesman.

Jim Mulhall, Mr. Robb's campaign manager, agreed: "Polls will go up, they will go down. I have been saying since the beginning this is going to be a horse race."

The numbers suggest the race will live up to its billing as one of the nation's most exciting when it finally gets going. Neither campaign has heavily advertised yet, although Mr. Allen has been touring the state rolling out policy positions on crime and education.

The poll, conducted by phone May 1-9, surveyed 555 likely voters. The margin of error is 5 percent.

The results seem to show both men have the support of their party faithful, and the battle will be over the 18 percent who, according to the poll, are undecided.

Among Republicans, 68 percent are backing Mr. Allen and only 16 percent support Mr. Robb. Among the Democrats polled 61 percent favored Mr. Robb, and 22 percent favored Mr. Allen.

Independents split almost evenly, with 40 percent supporting Mr. Allen, 38 percent supporting Mr. Robb and 21 percent undecided.

Mr. Mulhall said one encouraging point for his campaign is that Mr. Allen vastly outraised and outspent Mr. Robb over the past five months, yet the Commonwealth Poll numbers are very similar to polls taken at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Allen had raised $5.2 million by the end of March, nearly double Mr. Robb's $2.8 million. Mr. Allen has campaigned actively since late last year, while Mr. Robb kicked off his campaign in mid-March.

Some results in the poll were surprising.

Mr. Allen received the support of 31 percent of blacks, compared to 48 percent supporting Mr. Robb.

Those numbers are significantly down for Mr. Robb from his first Senate race in 1988, when he beat a black Republican candidate and received 84 percent of the black vote. In 1994, he received 88 percent of the black vote.

Mr. Allen received about a quarter of the black vote when he won the governorship in 1993.

Mr. Robb had surprisingly strong support in the state's western part 52 percent to Mr. Allen's 35 percent. Mr. Allen, meanwhile, dominated the Northwest, polling 46 percent to Mr. Robb's 29 percent.

In Northern Virginia, Mr. Robb leads with 43 percent of polled voters saying they would vote for him, while Mr. Allen had 35 percent.

Cary Funk, the poll director, said the poll also shows a significant gender gap a 12 percent lead among men for Mr. Allen, and an 11 percent lead among women for Mr. Robb.

She also said the results bode well for a campaign based on issues.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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