After getting good reviews for his performance in the first debate of the race last week Tim Kaine has finally gained a little separation in what has been a deadlocked Virginia Senate contest. He now leads George Allen 47-42.
When PPP polled this race for the first time this year in February it was dead even. The main difference between then and now comes with independents: what was a 9 point lead for Allen early in the year at 50-41 is a now 4 point advantage for Kaine at 43-39. The race continues to be extremely polarized along party lines with Kaine winning Democrats 85-7 and Allen winning Republicans 83-8. The prospects for either candidate getting much crossover support are limited.
The division in the race extends to voters' feelings about each candidate. 40% have a favorable opinion of Kaine to 41% with a negative one. Sentiment about Allen is just as evenly divided with 38% rating him positively while 39% have an unfavorable opinion of him. The most interesting thing there might be the 18% of voters with no opinion about Kaine and the 23% who don't have one about Allen...although they've both been major political figures in the state they've also been out of the spotlight for a little while.
Here's a finding that really says a lot about the changing nature of Virginia politics and why Democrats have become competitive at the Presidential level in the state: 34% of voters do not consider themselves to be Southerners and with them Kaine has a 61-29 advantage. 66% of Virginians do still identify as Southerners and they favor Allen 47-41, but Allen is getting so thoroughly defeated with the newbies that he trails overall anyway.
On the very, very off chance that Jamie Radtke were to nab the Republican nomination, she trails Kaine by a 49-33 margin.
This should still be a very competitive race, but Barack Obama's strength in the state bodes well for Kaine's prospects. Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich's unpopularity meanwhile has the potential to really drag down Allen. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Obama would win the state and Kaine would lose. It may be that one side effect of the weak Republican Presidential field ends up being Senator Kaine.
Full results here