Is Virginia in play?

Late last month I tuned my car radio to the local news station hoping for a sports update. Instead, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was doing what I think is a weekly show.

He was talking about Donald Trump’s advertising in Virginia. The combative McAuliffe said he hopes Trump pours plenty of money into the Commonwealth because it will all be wasted.

Soon thereafter, though, Clinton began advertising in Northern Virginia. Her main ad consists of clips of Trump at his most boorish coupled with a warning that our children are watching. Apparently, we are supposed to select the leader of what was once called the Free World based on the sensibilities of seven year-olds.

The fact that Clinton is advertising in Virginia didn’t convince me that she is in trouble there. Maybe her campaign was just trying to induce Trump to keep putting resources into the state.

However, the Clinton campaign also dispatched Tim Kaine to campaign in Northern Virginia and Richmond. It’s difficult to write this off as a feint.

Mark Rozell, a well-respected analyst of Virginia politics, says:

The fact that the vice-presidential nominee is coming to his home state tells you everything you need to know. Virginia is in play, and the Clinton campaign knows it, and they’re worried.

Do the polls support the view that Virginia is in play? I’m not sure. A Hampton poll taken at the end of October found Trump within 3 points of Clinton.

I heard Larry Sabato suggest that Hampton isn’t a credible pollster. Yet, Hampton nearly nailed the last Virginia gubernatorial race. The Washington Post reminds us that it showed McAuliffe with a one point lead while other polls had the margin at 10 points or more. McAuliffe won by 3.

It’s also worth remembering that in the last Virginia Senate race, Republican Ed Gillespie roared back from way behind to nearly upset Mark Warner. Maybe the dynamics in Virginia cause polls to underestimate Republican support. On the other hand, maybe in a presidential race the dynamics are less confounding to pollsters.

Four polls taken around the same time as the Hampton survey showed Clinton leading by between 4 to 9 points. And a PPP poll taken more recently (Nov. 3-4) has Clinton up by 6.

So it’s not clear to me that Virginia actually is in play. Team Clinton may have dispatched Kaine because it overreacted to one poll. Or maybe it doesn’t see Kaine as able to move the needle anywhere but in his home state. Trump now seems to have a shot in Virginia, but it may be a long shot.

It’s fun, though, finally to see campaign ads. I found Hillary’s “our children are watching” ad particularly amusing. Were they not watching back in the days of stained dresses and cigars?


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