Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The dark horse candidate for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race is a dark horse no longer, according to poll numbers released Tuesday.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds was in a statistical dead heat with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, according to the results of a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling of 559 likely Democratic voters. Mr. Deeds had the support of 27 percent of respondents, up seven percentage points from a poll released May 22, while Mr. McAuliffe fell to second with 24 percent, down five percentage points from the last poll.

Delegate Brian J. Moran climbed two percentage points to 22 percent, while undecided voters made up 27 percent.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, was conducted from Thursday to Sunday.

Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said the numbers show that the race for the June 9 primary remains a toss-up.

“We’ve been saying for months now that it’s anyone’s game, and it’s more true now than ever,” he said. “All three candidates have a perfectly reasonable chance of coming out on top.”

Mr. Debnam said Mr. Deeds has been riding a wave of voter enthusiasm thanks in part to a stream of endorsements, including The Washington Post on May 22 as well as the Bristol Herald Courier and the Martinsville Bulletin on Sunday. Mr. Deeds also has been making gains in the voter-rich D.C. suburbs, where Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Moran call home.

The poll showed that in the 703 area code of Northern Virginia, Mr. Deeds’ support climbed from 11 percent last month to 23 percent, while Mr. McAulliffe stayed steady with 27 percent and Mr. Moran dropped five percentage points to 35 percent.

In a straw poll Sunday by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, Mr. Deeds drew 30.3 percent, beating Mr. McAuliffe’s 28.8 percent, but trailing Mr. Moran’s 40.9 percent.

Mark Rush, a political science professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., said the poll is further evidence of Mr. Deeds’ momentum.

“It also says that people are taking time to think about who they want to vote for, instead of automatically backing a hometown candidate,” he said.

Mr. Deeds’ uptick in the polls comes despite a significant fundraising edge held by fellow candidates. According to campaign-finance reports released Monday, Mr. Deeds raised about $676,000 from April 1 to May 27. That compares with $844,000 raised by Mr. Moran and $1.8 million raised by Mr. McAulliffe.

Deeds campaign manager Joe Abbey said Tuesday that the new poll numbers show the race is about more than just who has the biggest campaign coffers.

“This poll confirms what we’ve been saying all along - this nomination is not for sale - and Creigh Deeds is the one Democrat prepared to be governor,” he said.

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