- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

The Virginia governor's race has become a tight contest going into today's debate, the first of the home-stretch period.
A new poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. gives Democratic candidate Mark R. Warner a six-point lead over Republican candidate Mark L. Earley. That's one point more than his lead in a June Mason-Dixon poll, but less than the 11-point lead he held in an August poll by The Washington Post.
Another poll conducted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and NBC's Richmond affiliate, released by the station last night, showed Mr. Warner with a 39 percent to 36 percent lead over Mr. Earley. That poll, though, sampled a much smaller number of people and didn't screen for likely voters.
But even as the race appears to have tightened and the candidates begin a three-week stretch with three debates and the first head-to-head statewide television advertisements, the campaign has been pushed from the front pages of newspapers and off local television newscasts by the terrorist attacks and the possibility of war. No television station was scheduled to carry today's entire debate, either.
During the past month, the race has consisted of Republicans going after Mr. Warner and the Democratic ticket for being too liberal for Virginia, and Democrats retorting that Republicans were distorting the record, and, in being negative, weren't putting forward an agenda for Virginia.
During the summer, Mr. Warner's campaign ran $1.4 million in television and radio ads to inoculate their candidate against negative attacks, and his staffers say the Mason-Dixon poll shows the strategy worked.
"It's pretty consistent with what we've seen in other polls, and we are very pleased to be this ahead and enjoy this much favorability with voters, at this point in September," said Amanda Crumley, Mr. Warner's spokeswoman. "It's unprecedented for Democrats in the last two gubernatorial elections, and that's very encouraging for us."
In the previous campaigns, by this time, the Republican gubernatorial candidate had turned around a substantial summertime lead by the Democratic candidate.
But Republicans say that's what's beginning to happen now.
"I think it shows that even with a man who has been on TV since May has absolutely bombarded the airwaves in Virginians' homes since May for us to be this close to him is a real harbinger of victory for us," said Anne Kincaid, a senior adviser to the Earley campaign.
Mr. Earley began running his first statewide television commercial of the campaign on Tuesday, followed soon after by Mr. Warner.
Nobody associated with Virginia politics knows how last week's terrorist attacks will affect the dynamics of the race, but both candidates figuratively wave the flag in their ads.
Mr. Earley's commercial shows him with Virginia's other top Republican officeholders, Gov. James S. Gilmore III and U.S. Sens. John W. Warner and George F. Allen, who have had a high profile in the wake of the terrorist attacks. In Mr. Warner's ads both radio and television he talks about supporting Republican President Bush and calls for unity behind common American values.
Mr. Warner released his $2.25 billion transportation plan on Wednesday, which was very similar in financing to the $1.8 billion plan Mr. Earley released in August.
Those plans will likely get a once-over at today's debate, which is being hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
The candidates will meet for two more debates Oct. 3 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and Oct. 7 in Roanoke. The Roanoke debate will be televised statewide and the VCU debate may end up being televised statewide as well.

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