Economic issues still pack the hardest political punch of all, according to the first poll of Virginia voters since the much-watched race for governor ended earlier this month.
The new survey by John McLaughlin Associates shows that economic issues were what Virginia voters were most interested in, and that they took generally conservative stands on those issues.
One could say that Democratic gun-for-hire James Carville's famous admonition still applies -- "It's the economy, stupid." At least in Virginia.
But McLaughlin's poll also found that conservative Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, heavily attacked by a Democrat with a superior campaign spending advantage, was not the best messenger for that agenda. Another Republican candidate likely could have beaten Democrat winner Terry McAuliffe.
McLaughlin's survey of Virginians who cast ballots in the contest narrowly (48 percent to 45.5 percent) won by McAuliffe found 79 percent wanted the candidates to focus more on "pocketbook" issues: job creation, reducing taxes, and making the state's business climate more competitive.
On this point, the poll revealed Virginians across the philosophical spectrum are in resounding agreement. Among those who consider themselves "conservative" and those who consider themselves "liberal," 77 percent agreed that pocketbook issues needed to be emphasized more in the gubernatorial race. Among those calling themselves "moderate," the number shot up to 82 percent.
Virginia voters also favor the traditional, opportunity-society approach to job creation. McLaughin's findings had 77 percent of Virginia voters agreeing that reducing regulations and taxes is the best means to create jobs, and 52 percent "strongly agree" with that statement.
Among conservatives, the survey found 89 percent in agreement. Moderates came in at 75 percent; and liberals, 61 percent.
RIGHT MESSAGE, WRONG MESSENGER
But those views did not help the Republican Cuccinelli. Best known as a robust champion of the pro-life cause and the first state attorney general in the nation to file a lawsuit against Obamacare, Cuccinelli was never fully embraced by economic conservatives.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told Newsmax that "I wanted Ken to win, of course, but he never signed ATR's pledge [not to support new or higher taxes]. When I asked him why, he told me he might have to raise taxes as governor."
The caricature of Cuccinelli as a cultural extremist that was driven by the liberal media and McAuliffe's campaign spending advantage ($34 million to $20 million for the Republican) seems to have worked among voters. McLaughlin's survey concluded that 48.7 percent of those who voted considered the Republican nominee "too conservative," 9 percent "not conservative enough," and 31.4 percent "about right."
The poll also makes a credible case that another Republican would have defeated McAuliffe, a past Democratic national chairman who has never held elective office. Were Lieutenant Gov. Bill Bolling the nominee, the survey found, he would have beaten McAuliffe by a margin of 42.7 percent to 36.6 percent statewide.
McLaughlin's figure also showed -- incredibly to many -- strong voter loyalty to lame duck GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, despite a string of scandals surrounding gifts from a financial supporter that have dogged his last year in the statehouse. Were McDonnell able to seek re-election, the poll found, he would have defeated McAuliffe 45.8 percent to 41.8 percent.
Overall, McLaughlin concluded, Virginia is still a conservative state. More voters described themselves as "conservative" (41 percent) than "moderate" (34 percent), or "liberal" (23 percent).
But for a Republican to win, he or she must win 40 percent or more among moderates, the pollster pointed out, and the newest polling figures showed Cuccinelli winning only 28 percent among moderates, McAuliffe winning 58 percent among the same group, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis taking 14 percent.
CHRISTIE STRONGER THAN CLINTON
Growing Democratic hopes that Virginia is now poised to give its electoral votes to a Democrat for president for the third time in a row come 2016 may be a bit high at this time. McLaughlin's polling showed 51.3 percent of state voters disapproving of President Obama's performance and 47.2 percent approving.
The figures regarding the direction of the country should be even more disturbing to the party in the White House: 63.8 percent of Virginians say America is headed in the wrong direction, 28.8 percent say it is headed in the right direction, and 7.5 percent don't know.
As for two of the leading presidential prospects of the two major parties, McLaughlin found, Democrat Hillary Clinton is viewed favorably by 49.7 percent of Virginia voters, and unfavorably by 41.1 percent. Republican Chris Christie fares much better among the state's electorate, with the poll showing 55.2 percent viewing the New Jersey governor favorably and only 21.5 percent viewing him unfavorably.
Democrats do have something to boast about in Terry McAuliffe narrowly winning the governorship of Virginia. But as to it translating into anything else in terms of national politics or a change from Virginia's historic conservatism, that remains to be seen.
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