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Surveys show Deeds has cut his deficit, but is still behind

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

The race for the Executive Mansion is closer, but Republican Bob McDonnell still holds a solid lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds.

That's the bottom line of a new survey released by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling on Tuesday.

McDonnell, a former Virginia attorney general, leads the sitting state senator 49 percent to 42 percent. The 7-point lead is down from an early August survey that showed the GOP candidate leading by 14 points.

"Creigh Deeds has cut his deficit in half over the last month so things are definitely going in the right direction for him," said Dean Debnam, the polling firm's president.

"The key to this race continues to be the significant imbalance among independent voters," he said.

Self-identified Republicans and Democrats for the most part fall in line behind their party's nominees -- Deeds collects 85 percent of Democrats, while McDonnell garners 89 percent of Republicans.

But independents said they back McDonnell by a near 2-to-1 margin, 60 percent to 29 percent.

"That's been a trend in our polls, as the Republican held leads of 19 and 21 points with those voters in our July and August surveys," Debnam said.

If Deeds hopes to pull out a win in November, that gap has to shrink markedly.

"There aren't a lot of winning candidates in the history of politics who lost by 31 points with that group," he said.

That number could be reflective of a growing disenchantment with the Obama administration in the commonwealth.

A separate poll of 600 adults released Monday by SurveyUSA found that only 42 percent of Virginians approve of how President Obama is doing his job, while 54 percent disapprove.

One question that remains unanswered is how this week's revelation of McDonnell's controversial 1989 master's thesis from Regent University will affect the race. No complete public polling has been done since the story broke over the weekend.

Democrats have blasted the thesis -- a policy analysis of how Republicans could support the traditional family going into the 1990s -- as proof that McDonnell would work to limit access to contraception and discriminate against homosexuals, among other things.

McDonnell spent more than an hour on the phone with reporters Monday afternoon repudiating those views, saying 20 years of experience had moderated his opinions.

He stated flatly that he would not move to limit access to contraception, would enforce existing abortion laws on the books and that discrimination had no place in government.

Deeds' campaign did its best to keep the story rolling Tuesday, hosting a conference call with four former Republican legislators who all said they thought the document was a fair appraisal of the McDonnell's world view.

Former state Sen. H. Russell Potts, Jr., R-Winchester, said that while his views moderated significantly during his time in the legislature, McDonnell's didn't.

"In my own life I've had an evolution to move more to the center where you govern. The influences on me were the legislators that I served with," he said.

But "Bob has never been about governing from the middle. I like him personally, but he would be, without a doubt, a governor that strongly endorses an agenda of God, guns, gays and abortion."

The poll of 596 likely Virginia voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

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