- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

President Obama leads presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney by eight points in Virginia as both campaigns turn their focus toward the all-important swing state this week.

Mr. Obama led 50 percent to 42 percent in a survey released Tuesday by the Democrat-leaning firm Public Policy Polling — almost identical to his 51 percent to 43 percent margin in an April poll from the firm.

In 2008, Mr. Obama became the first Democrat since 1964 to win the state. His campaign opened nearly 50 offices there four years ago, but state elections have swung back to the GOP since Mr. Obama’s win, and Republicans are swiftly organizing a robust operation throughout the state.

“I don’t think anybody would be very surprised if it’s a close election in Virginia — maybe the closest since 1976,” said Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist and adviser to former Govs. L. Douglas Wilder and Mark R. Warner. “Many presidential elections have come down to one state. Could it come down to Virginia and, say, New Hampshire? Yeah.”

Mr. Obama is set to make a two-day swing through the state this weekend, with scheduled stops in Roanoke, Virginia Beach and Hampton on Friday and stops in Henrico and Clifton on Saturday.

Mr. Romney’s campaign bus is circulating around the state all week as part of a massive get-out-the-vote push from the coordinated effort among the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Virginia and the Romney campaign.

Mr. Obama’s trip could steal some of the media spotlight from Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is playing host to the National Governors Association’s annual conference in Williamsburg.

Virginia’s swing-state status has led to much speculation about Mr. McDonnell as a possible Republican vice-presidential candidate, but the PPP poll suggests not much would change were he added to the ticket. When vice-presidential candidates were specified, the Democratic ticket of Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden still led a hypothetical Romney-McDonnell team, 50 percent to 43 percent.

But another hypothetical question had bad news for Republicans. Should former Virginia congressman and current Constitution Party candidate Virgil H. Goode Jr. qualify for the Virginia ballot, the PPP poll said, he would take 9percent of the vote, giving Mr. Obama a lopsided 49 percent to 35 percent lead over Mr. Romney.

“I don’t envision a lot of electoral votes going into Virgil Goode’s pocket, but a few percentage points in Virginia may be where the electoral votes end up,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Virgil Goode gets as many votes as any third-party candidate ever gets in Virginia. He has a great connection to many voters, particularly in his old congressional district. If there hadn’t been this tidal wave of opposition to George W. Bush in 2008, Virgil Goode would still be in Congress,” Mr. Farnsworth said.

Still, that’s an uphill battle, and support for third-party candidates typically decreases as Election Day approaches. Mr. Goode was under no illusion that he would get any help from top party brass in the state, who have been busy campaigning for Mr. Romney.

“They can’t support me,” he said. “They are locked into the party position.”

Slightly to the south, Mr. Obama had a one-point lead — 47 percent to 46 percent — in North Carolina, the poll found.

PPP, which conducts polls via automated telephone interviews, polled 775 registered voters in North Carolina and 647 such people in Virginia from July 5 to July 8. The margin of error for the North Carolina survey is 3.5 percentage points and 3.9 percentage points for the Virginia survey.

The party affiliation of those polled was split nearly evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independent/other.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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