Shhh — Don’t Tell Anyone, But Obama Hurt Deeds in Virginia

Democrats and the press are on a self-delusional kick that Barack Obama had nothing to do with the results in Virginia and New Jersey.  That’s fine by me.  The more the Dems deny to themselves that Independents moved to the GOP and that Republican voters were fired up because of concerns about Obama, the less prepared the Dems will be to deal with it in 2010.

I’ve got Virginia data that makes a different case.   At the end of tracking, we added some questions paid for by the Republican National Committee specifically to measure the Obama effect.  Keep in mind, Obama is NOT the reason Bob McDonnell won — the campaign was much more complex than that.  But, he did help.

The White House is trying to have it both ways — they disavowed Deeds, yet also frantically tried to help him.  The President appeared in one of the few positive ads that Deeds ran for any length of time, the President did a rally with one week left.  I received multiple emails from the President and Organizing for America urging me to vote (I did — thanks for the reminder) for Deeds (I didn’t).  I’d bet my bottom dollar that there were also robocalls done by the President as well.

All this effort was being made at a time when, based on the RNC’s questions that they piggybacked onto my tracking for the McDonnell campaign, the President was not the strongest card they could play.

The dominant national issue at that time was (and still is) health care.  Only 44% of likely voters support the Obama plan, while 50% oppose it.  Intensity is strongly against — 29% strongly favor/42% strong oppose.  The question was worded:

“As you may have heard, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are preparing a plan to change the health care system.  From what you have heard about this plan, do you favor or oppose Obama and the Democrats’ health care proposal?”

We also asked a message question that was stunning for two reasons.  One, it was stunning in its rejection of the notion of the Democratic wave of 2006-08 is any lasting move, and it was stunning for how close it was to the final election margin:

“I’m going to read you two statements, and please tell me which one comes closest to your opinion.

Some/Other people say it is more important to elect a Governor who will help President Barack Obama implement his agenda.

Other/Some people say that it is more important to elect a Governor who will serve as a check and balance to President Barack Obama.”

Voters opted for the check and balance by a 55%-35% margin.  Independents (who voted for Obama by one point in 2008 in Virginia) opted for a check and balance by an overwhelming 58%-25% margin.  Throughout our tracking, we regularly found open-ended comments from Independent voters saying they wanted to balance the overwhelming power that the Democrats have in Washington.   Given the absolute power the Dems have in DC, that is a very strong message for GOPers running in 2010.

We tested the impact of the Obama endorsement — 24% said they were more likely to vote for Deeds, while 32% were less likely.  The minus eight increment on that can not be encouraging to the White House.

Finally, we tested a simple agree/disagree: “Creigh Deeds’ policies are too close to the policies of President Barack Obama.”  Fully 52% agreed and only 30% disagreed.  By intensity, 30% strongly agreed and only 9% strongly disagreed.  Revisionists on the left are blaming Deeds for not embracing Obama enough, but Virginia voters did not agree.  Among Independents, it was 52% agree/28% disagree.

The Bottom Line

Obama was not the deciding factor in the Virginia campaign.  However, he certainly was MUCH more than a non-factor.  Concern about his policies overreaching permeated to a gubernatorial campaign and helped widen the size of McDonnell’s win.  It allowed the campaign to focus on issues that hadn’t been working in recent years for Republican candidates.  Concern about Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and jobs allowed McDonnell to thoroughly dominate those issues.  The checks and balances message is a key one, but the bigger lesson about Obama’s impact on Virginia is that his policies have put fiscal and economic messages back into play for Republicans.

Public Opinion Strategies