- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

RICHMOND — Democrats face an uphill battle in their attempt to unseat Virginia Sen. George Allen, a new statewide poll shows.

So far, Northern Virginia businessman Harris Miller is the only announced Democrat to seek his party’s nomination to challenge the Republican senator on the Nov. 7 ballot.

If the election were held today, Mr. Allen would receive 57 percent of the vote, and Mr. Miller would get 27 percent, according to a telephone survey of 500 likely Virginia voters conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports.

The poll, conducted after Mr. Miller filed his candidacy, showed 6 percent of voters favored some other candidate, and 11 percent were not sure.

Because Mr. Miller has not yet campaigned publicly, most learning of the poll results cautioned it is too early to get a clear picture of how he will perform at the polls on Election Day.

However, it is hard to argue with Mr. Allen’s popularity.

Mr. Allen, a former Virginia governor, has a 70 percent approval rating among voters, the poll shows. Mr. Miller had a 38 percent favorable rating.

The results of the poll were provided to The Washington Times last week. The New Jersey-based Rasmussen Reports conducted the survey Jan. 10. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Democrats hope to build on a successful campaign of newly inaugurated Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and on the party’s recent narrowing of the GOP’s numerical advantage in the House.

Miller spokesman Brian Cook said the campaign is not focusing on polls, and instead is crafting ways to introduce Mr. Miller to voters.

“There’s a long way to go in the campaign, and at this point a year ago, Tim Kaine was down by double digits,” Mr. Cook said. “We’re confident the more that people find out about Harris Miller the more they’re going to like him.”

Mr. Miller has already begun introducing himself to voters. Last weekend, Mr. Miller held a meet-and-greet before Mr. Kaine’s inauguration in Williamsburg.

The poll also showed that 22 percent of Democrats surveyed would vote for Mr. Allen. It also suggested Democrats might be able to capitalize on recent scandals in Republican-controlled Washington.

“George Allen is bitterly partisan,” said Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “He is intimately tied to the disaster that’s going on [in Washington] right now. We’ve got corruption scandals, the botched Katrina effort, and the horrible, incompetent mismanagement of the Iraq war.”

Mr. Griffis predicted that voters will connect Mr. Miller with the “Virginia brand of Democrats,” notably leaders like Mr. Kaine and former Gov. Mark Warner, whose popularity rating remains at 70 percent, the poll shows.

The Republican Party of Virginia is confident that Mr. Allen will be “overwhelmingly” re-elected to the U.S. Senate seat he first won in 2000, said Shawn Smith, the party’s executive director.

“Senator Allen has a proven and distinguished record, and he will take that record to the people of Virginia,” he said.

The poll showed Virginians are evenly divided on how President Bush is handling the war in Iraq, with 50 percent saying Mr. Bush is doing a fair or poor job and 49 percent saying he is doing an excellent or good job. One percent was not sure.

However, 61 percent said making sure Iraq becomes a peaceful nation is more important than getting troops home, while 32 percent think the opposite and 7 percent were not sure, the poll shows.

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