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McDonnell gets good news on popularity

Poll results countered by opposition to policies on airports, tolls, abortion

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Wednesday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell learned that a majority of Virginia voters oppose his plans for toll roads on Interstate 95, while two Democratic congressmen railed on Capitol Hill against state abortion-clinic regulations he supports, and the chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board denounced legislation he has lobbied in favor of.

But, on balance, it was a good day for the Republican governor, whose job-approval continues to climb and whose policies continue to have the confidence of a majority of Virginians, a new poll shows.

Sixty-two percent of voters approve of the way Mr. McDonnell is doing his job, compared to 22 percent who disapprove, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday. The job-approval figure was slightly higher than the 61 percent who said in September that they approved of Mr. McDonnell, who is frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate. And 52 percent of respondents said they like his policies, compared to 26 percent who don’t — a 2-1 margin.

The poll, of 1,459 registered voters conducted Oct. 3 to 9, has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.

The 10-point discrepancy between voters who approve of Mr. McDonnell's policies and those who approve of his job performance is not necessarily unusual, said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of communication at George Mason University, adding that there's often "a disconnect between a governor's approval ratings and his policies."

"I think when we talk about governors, a lot of voters think of them as people," he said.

The discrepancy might explain why some initiatives Mr. McDonnell has proposed or championed faced challenges Wednesday.

Among the Quinnipiac poll's other findings, it shows a majority of Virginia voters oppose the notion of tolls on I-95 to raise funds for road improvements. The tolls at the North Carolina border were a key plank of Mr. McDonnell's transportation plan during his 2009 gubernatorial campaign. Forty-two percent of respondents say it is a good idea, while 52 percent say it is a bad idea.

The Federal Highway Administration recently gave the state preliminary approval to put tolls on I-95, which the state estimates could generate $50 million annually.

On Capitol Hill, Reps. James P. Moran Jr. and Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrats, joined abortion-rights activists to sign a petition urging Mr. McDonnell to scrap recently approved regulations on clinics that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month. Pro-choice advocates say the regulations are the strictest in the nation and could force nearly all of the state's abortion clinics to close.

"[It] has been suggested that this is a safety and security measure, which it is not," Mr. Moran said. "We would hope that these regulations would be rejected."

The new rules, approved last month by the state Board of Health, will require abortion clinics to meet architectural standards regarding items such as door widths and the size of treatment rooms.

Mr. McDonnell has called the emergency regulations, which are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, a clinic safety issue. They'll remain in effect while permanent ones are drafted.

About 45 minutes after the Capitol Hill event, Charles Snelling, chairman of the embattled Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, urged the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments board to oppose legislation that would add directors to the airports authority board and give Virginia a majority of seats. The measure was introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, and supported by Mr. McDonnell.

Mr. McDonnell has noted that Virginia should have a greater voice on the board because that's where the two airports and the toll road it operates are located.

But Mr. Snelling — and a majority of the COG board — disagreed.

"Combined with the extra four directors, the net effect would be to transfer absolute control of the airports to Richmond," Mr. Snelling said. "We have great concerns since the airports themselves are federally owned and regional assets that serve passengers from throughout the metropolitan area."

Despite the opposition lodged Wednesday, the Quinnipiac poll shows that Mr. McDonnell scores well with a broad range of voter blocs.

Independents favored him by 65 percent to 18 percent, while Democrats were split at 40 percent who approved and disapproved of his job performance.

And while his lowest marks came in Northern Virginia, lately a Democratic stronghold, 60 percent of voters there said they approved of the governor's job performance.

"When people look at Gov. McDonnell, their evaluation is more on whether they like him and how they feel the economy's doing in Virginia, rather than the intramural struggles of who gets to sit on the Metro Board," Mr. Farnsworth said.

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