Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell saw his 14-point lead cut in half last month, according to polling figures released Tuesday.
The survey, conducted by nonpartisan Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling, found Mr. McDonnell now leads his Democratic rival R. Creigh Deeds 49 percent to 42 percent. A poll conducted by the company last month showed Mr. McDonnell leading Mr. Deeds 51 percent to 37 percent.
The polling began on Friday and ended Monday, after a graduate school thesis the Republican wrote in 1989 surfaced in news reports. In the paper, Mr. McDonnell said homosexuality, working women and abortion were detrimental to traditional American families.
Mr. McDonnell repudiated much of what was in the thesis during a conference call with reporters Monday, but Democrats have seized on the document to support their case that the Republican candidate is too conservative for Virginia.
It remains to be seen how much of an effect Mr. McDonnell’s paper has had with voters. Public Policy pollsters said 86 percent of the survey was completed on Friday and Saturday - before The Washington Post published a story about the thesis in Sunday’s editions.
The pollsters pointed out that while Mr. McDonnell led 50 percent to 41 percent in the two days of polling before the article was published, Mr. Deeds led 50 percent to 42 percent in the 83 interviews conducted on Sunday and Monday. That number, because it was taken from so small a sample, would have margin of error of 10.8 percentage points.
The poll was of 596 likely Virginia voters and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Mr. McDonnell still leads among independent voters, who support him over Mr. Deeds 60 to 29. Mr. Deeds is gaining support among black voters, 81 percent of whom said they supported Mr. Deeds compared with 64 percent last month.
Democrats on Tuesday continued to focus on Mr. McDonnell’s thesis, sending out e-mails nationally and statewide on the subject. During a conference call that was organized by the Deeds campaign and featured four Republican former state legislators, Mr. McDonnell’s former colleagues said the thesis was very much in keeping with the statesman they knew.
Former state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. of Winchester, former chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, was critical of Mr. McDonnell’s legislative agenda. He said Mr. McDonnell submitted 35 bills aimed at restricting abortion to his committee.
The candidate has said he only supported eight bills, five of which were identical but presented on different years until passage.
“The thesis that I’ve been reading about is exactly who Bob McDonnell is. Any attempt by Bob - while I like him personally, his philosophical bent is just exactly in line with what that thesis says,” Mr. Potts said.
Mr. McDonnell has said his views have broadened since he wrote the thesis while working toward a master’s degree in public policy and a law degree at Regent University.
The 93-page document calls for passing strong pro-life laws, the creation of a covenant marriage classification, welfare reform, fighting the redefinition of families to include gays and single unwed mothers and preventing federal funding of state sex education programs, family planning or contraception.