With a statewide poll showing that Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) would defeat Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) by eight percent in Virginia if elections were held today, the McCain for President campaign opened its regional headquarters in Crystal City Tuesday, setting down roots squarely in a place it considers a key battleground state.
The new Mid-Atlantic headquarters at 1235 S. Clark Street, next to the Crowne Plaza Crystal City, is located inside of McCain’s national headquarters, which opened there last August, and is less than a mile from McCain’s Crystal City condominium at Crystal Gateway. The headquarters serves Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky, and also serves as the Virginia Republican Party Victory Office.
“Senator McCain has a broad electoral base and especially enjoys strong appeal among veterans across the state,” said Crystal Benton, a national spokesperson for McCain ’08. “We are rapidly building out our regional efforts with this as our base.”
On Wednesday, a Virginia Commonwealth University poll of 1,003 likely voters in the state found that McCain hold a clear lead over Obama and Clinton among registered voters in Virginia .
VCU’s Commonwealth Poll found that 44 percent of registered voters prefer McCain, compared with 36 percent for Obama, the Democratic front-runner. And if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, 47 percent of voters prefer McCain while 38 percent prefer Clinton. The Commonwealth Poll was conducted by telephone with 1,003 adults and 852 registered voters from May 12 through May 18. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents and 4 percentage points for registered voters.
“Many political observers have been looking at Virginia as a potentially tight general election race,” said Cary Funk, Ph.D., director of the Commonwealth Poll and associate professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “Despite the recent success of Democratic candidates such as Tim Kaine in 2005 and U.S. Senator Jim Webb in 2006, the presidential race in Virginia at present is looking mostly like years gone by,” Funk said.
McCain holds a strong lead in the more rural areas of the state, including the northwest and western areas, and a nine-point lead in the Tidewater area. In vote-rich Northern Virginia, Obama has a slight edge over McCain, 41 to 36 percent. Obama also leads McCain 43 to 39 percent in the south central area, a region which includes Richmond. The figures for both regions are within the margin of sampling error for the difference between the candidates.
McCain also leads Obama among registered independent voters, 44 to 34 percent. Registered Republicans support McCain over Obama by a margin of 81 to 6 percent. Voters age 65 and older also show strong support for McCain. Among voters under age 65, nearly equal portions support each candidate.
Registered Democrats strongly support Obama over McCain, 71 to 14 percent, in the general election. Obama has the support of nearly all African-Americans in the state. Obama fared a bit better with highly educated voters, those with some post-graduate education; among this group, 41 percent prefer Obama while 36 percent prefer McCain.
Virginia voters prefer McCain over Clinton by 47 percent to 38 percent. There was no evidence in the poll that the Democratic Party would fare better in Virginia this fall if the party nominee is Clinton. The patterns of support across demographic groups are similar for both Obama and Clinton.
Virginians tend to hold a favorable view of both likely party nominees for president, Funk said. Nearly four-in-10, or 39 percent, have a favorable view of McCain, 24 percent are unfavorable and about a quarter are undecided. Opinion of McCain divides strongly along partisan lines. Independents tend to hold a favorable opinion of McCain; 35 percent are favorable and 24 percent are unfavorable. There is also a divide between whites and blacks, but this largely corresponds with differences in party affiliation between the two racial groups.
Virginians’ views of Obama tilt positive, if a little less strongly positive than for McCain. Among all adults, 36 percent have a favorable opinion of Obama, 28 percent are unfavorable, while a quarter are undecided. There is also a strong partisan slant in opinions about Obama. Among independents, 34 percent are favorable and 30 percent are unfavorable, with the remainder undecided or not holding an opinion.
Clinton is a bit better known than either Obama or McCain and a bit less liked, according to the poll. About a third of Virginians, or 34 percent, have a favorable opinion of Clinton while 38 percent are unfavorable and two in 10 are undecided.
Virginians are on par with the nation when it comes to views about the war in Iraq and opinion of George W. Bush. Of those polled, 48 percent say it was the wrong decision to go to war in Iraq and 39 percent say it was the right decision. A 53 percent majority of Virginians holds an unfavorable opinion of President Bush while 29 percent are favorable.
The opening of McCain’s regional headquarters here is a sign that the GOP plans to mobilize its Republican activists to keep the state from turning blue this year. Virginia has not gone Democratic in a presidential election since Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964.
But McCain may face an uphill struggle in voter-rich Northern Virginia, the wealthiest and most diverse region of the state, and one of the wealthiest and most diverse regions of the country, according to 2006 Census Bureau statistics.
With 2.4 million people, the regions large mix of ethnic residents Hispanics (11 percent), African-Americans (11 percent) and Asian Americans (9 percent) is increasingly favoring blue candidates in its voting patterns.
In three out of four of recent elections, the wide margins tallied in Northern Virginia have swept the Democratic candidate into office statewide. Fairfax County went for John Kerry for president in 2004, the first time the county went for a Democratic candidate since 1964. The area also went for Democrats Webb in 2006, Kaine in 2005 and Mark Warner in 2001.
Susan Kellom, the chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, swears that Northern Virginia has gone deep, deep purple which she said would make it difficult for McCain to win. Were seeing a lot more former Republicans voting for our candidates, no question, Kellom said.
With each passing year and increasing growth in Northern Virginia, the state turns a little less red and a little more purple, said Prof. Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia.
The McCain campaign joined forces with the Virginia Republican Party to open the office, which has a big open space with 10 or 12 phone lines manned by volunteers recruiting other potential volunteers.
The regional center will also host McCain’s get-out-the-vote campaign efforts on behalf of candidates attempting to hold onto the seats of retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Benton said.
The headquarters is less than a mile from Sen. McCain’s longtime home here, a three-bedroom, 2 bath condo of 2,100 square feet in the Crystal Gateway complex across from Reagan National Airport.
McCain purchased the 17th-floor condo for $375,000 in Feb. 1993. A local broker said the condo is now woth about $750,000. The McCains’ principal residence is a 6,500 square foot condominium in Phoenix which they purchased in 2006 for $4.67 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.