The three top races in next month's Virginia election are dead heats, a new Washington Post survey has found, because voters want a new direction in state government but are unsure which candidates can make that happen.

Unlike the campaign four years ago, when abortion was the biggest issue for Virginians, the poll found that rising crime, troubled schools and the limping economy are their main worries now.

With four weeks to go before the Nov. 2 election, the electorate is definitely having trouble making up its mind. In the race for governor, Democrat Mary Sue Terry has a statistically insignificant 48 percent to 46 percent advantage over Republican George F. Allen, the survey found.

Donald S. Beyer Jr., the Democratic incumbent, and Michael P. Farris, a Republican, are deadlocked in the contest for lieutenant governor, with each claiming 39 percent of the likely vote.


In the race for attorney general, Democrat William D. Dolan III also is in a tie with the Republican, James S. Gilmore III. Each has 37 percent.

A total of 801 registered voters were interviewed Sept. 24-28 for the survey, including 588 voters who said they were certain to cast ballots on Election Day. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 4 percentage points for those likely voters interviewed.

Echoing the call for change that helped decide last year's presidential campaign, three out of four voters questioned said they want the next governor to "get the state going in a new direction" rather than maintain its current course, a view shared by big majorities of Democrats and Republicans.

"Sooner or later, somebody's going to have to face up to what we want to do in government and how we're going to do it," said one of those surveyed, Skip Schwab, 43, an assistant prosecutor from Christiansburg who is supporting Terry.


Another of those polled, Donna Ambrose, 40, a court reporter in suburban Richmond who voted for Ross Perot for president last year, said, "We need an overall change, and Allen just happens to be the only other person we can look to."

The bid by Terry, twice elected attorney general, to continue the 12-year Democratic domination of the Statehouse could be hampered by widespread dissatisfaction with Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. Three of four voters surveyed said Wilder has accomplished little or nothing as governor.

Though they barely registered as issues four years ago, concerns about the economy, crime and public schools today top the list of problems voters want the next governor to solve. But Virginians can't agree about which candidate for governor can best deal with those problems.

Janny Gilbert, 48, a homemaker in rural Amherst County in the Shenandoah Valley, wants "a more conservative person" at the helm of state government. She likes Allen's promises to end parole, build more jails and protect the rights of gun owners.


Worries about the economy and jobs most often help Terry, according to the poll. Among those who listed the economy as their top voting concern, 55 percent supported Terry and 37 percent favored Allen, a former congressman and state legislator.

James Sadler, 62, a retired taxidermist from Glade Springs in Southwest Virginia, doesn't believe that Allen's promise not to increase taxes is the solution to the state's economic woes.

"You can't survive without taxes. Anyone who says that is simple-minded," Sadler said. The state's income must at least keep up with inflation, he said, if Virginia is to build the roads and schools necessary to attract industry.

Although Republicans traditionally have been viewed as better able to deal with crime problems, Allen has yet to make the issue work for him. Terry led Allen 49 percent to 42 percent among those voters who listed crime as their top voting issue.

Terry's plan to require a five-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun is "the deciding factor" for Sam James, of suburban Chesterfield County. Allen is against the idea.

James, 61, an administrator with the Baptist Foreign Mission Board, voted for Republican J. Marshall Coleman in the gubernatorial election four years ago but now is "sick of guns. Crime here in Richmond is terrible."

Terry also has an edge among voters who are most concerned about public education, 52 percent to 41 percent for Allen.

Terry is strongest in Northern Virginia, home to about one-fifth of the state's voters. She holds a 54 percent to 34 percent advantage over Allen there and also has a modest lead in the Richmond area.

Terry is particularly popular among women in the Washington suburbs, leading Allen by a commanding 60 percent to 26 percent.


She enjoys only a modest advantage over Allen among all female voters in the state, suggesting that her position on gun control is more important than her sex to women in Northern Virginia.

Allen is nearly a 2-to-1 choice of voters in the Shenandoah Valley, a traditional Republican stronghold that he briefly represented in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In other areas of the state -- Southwest, Southside and Hampton Roads -- Allen and Terry are neck-and-neck.

The GOP nominee runs particularly well with white voters; Allen leads Terry by 52 percent to 41 percent among whites. Terry is supported by nine out of 10 blacks.

Historically, Democrats have had to capture about 45 percent of the white vote, plus a heavy turnout in black precincts, to win statewide.

Allen also holds a slight advantage among voters making $50,000 a year or more, and he has an even bigger edge among such voters outside Northern Virginia.


The Post survey suggests that the family status and sex of the candidates are affecting the election in much different ways.

Allen has benefited by emphasizing that he is "married, with children," in contrast to Terry, who is single and childless. Nearly one of 10 voters say they are more likely to vote for Allen because of his family status.

Nine out of 10 voters surveyed said Terry's sex made them neither more nor less likely to support her. Among those for whom her sex was relevant, the issue hurt nearly as much as it helped her.

First-time voter Karen Thornsbury, 18, a high school senior in Lynchburg, said her opposition to Terry is based more on political affiliation and philosophy -- "I'm extremely against abortion" -- than on the candidate's sex. "Maybe if some other woman was running."


On the other hand, Bobbi Carpenter, 44, of Berryville, said she will vote for Terry because "first of all, she's a woman. And I like her stands on abortion and gun control."

Terry's backers consistently expressed less enthusiasm about the election and their candidate than Allen supporters. In a close race, Election Day turnout could be a crucial factor.

The survey found that Allen voters are more likely to be closely following the campaign, somewhat more likely to say they will vote and more committed to their candidate than were Terry voters.

The key to victory may be how -- and whether -- disenchanted Democrats such as Peggy Ward, of Hampton, vote.

A 56-year-old mother of three, Ward is "aggravated" with crime near her home. Although she approves of making it harder to buy guns, she isn't sure any politician can do much about crime. The solution "must start in the home," she said, adding that she will definitely vote for Terry.


Perhaps the biggest surprise in the poll is the strong showing by Farris, a first-time candidate running against the well-known and better-financed Beyer, a Falls Church auto dealer.

Much of Farris's support comes from the growing political clout of conservative Christians. One-fourth of the voters interviewed said they considered themselves to be politically conservative and "evangelical or born-again Christians."

Farris, who enjoys the support of Virginia Beach evangelist Pat Robertson, is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Loudoun County. He and his wife have nine children and teach them at home in Purcellville.

A former field director for Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and legal counsel to Concerned Women of America, a Washington-based antiabortion lobby, Farris has been attacked by Beyer and other Democrats as being "too extreme" for Virginia voters. But that label may not be taking hold.

Dean Wall, 61, a Herndon consultant who doesn't agree with Farris's antiabortion views, nonetheless probably will vote for Farris and Allen.

"I'm not that wild about Farris, but it's not much of a job unless something happens to the governor," Wall said.

In the contest for attorney general, one-third of voters expressed no preference for the little-known contenders. Dolan, a former president of the state bar association from Arlington, is doing well in Northern Virginia. Gilmore's pitch is that his six years as Henrico County prosecutor make him better qualified to be the state's chief legal officer.

Senior polling analyst Sharon Warden contributed to this report.

Q: Suppose the election for governor were held today. For whom would you vote?

Likely voters*

Mary Sue Terry: 48%

George F. Allen: 46%

Don't know: 6%

All voters

Mary Sue Terry: 49%

George F. Allen: 44%

Don't know: 7%

Northern Va. voters**

Mary Sue Terry: 54%

George F. Allen: 34%

Don't know: 12%

Q: Would you call yourself a strong supporter or not strong supporter of your candidate? (Shows how much likely voters support their candidate.)

..................... Mary Sue Terry .... George F. Allen

Strong supporter ........... 47% .............. 57%

Not strong supporter ....... 52 ............... 41

Q: Suppose the election for lieutenant governor were held today. For whom would you vote?

Likely voters*

Donald S. Beyer: 39%

Michael P. Farris: 39%

Don't know: 22%

Q: Suppose the election for attorney general were held today. For whom would you vote?

Likely voters*

William D. Dolan: 37%

James S. Gilmore: 37%

Don't know: 26%

Q: Considering everything, do you have a generally favorable or a generally unfavorable impression of:

................... Favorable ... Unfavorable ... Don't know

Mary Sue Terry ....... 49% .......... 38% .......... 13%

George F. Allen ...... 43 ........... 36 ........... 21

Q: Which one of the following statements comes closest to your own views:

A. We need a governor ............ B. We need a governor

who can get the state .... OR .... who can keep the state

going in a new direction. ........ moving in the same

.................................. direction we're going.

New direction: 76% ............... Same direction: 21%

Asked of the 76 precent who want a governor who would move the state in a new direction: Does that mean you favor major changes in the way the state is headed or only minor changes?

Major changes: 46%

Minor changes: 50%

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing the state of Virginia today -- the one that you expect the next governor to work hardest to solve? (Top five problems only)

Economy/unemployment ......... 24%

Crime ......................... 21

Education ..................... 18

Access to guns/gun violence .... 7

Taxes/high taxes ............... 6

Q: I want you to tell me whether each of the following statements some people make about political candidates describes the candidate very well.

................................Mary Sue Terry . George F. Allen

Has the right qualifications

to be governor ..................... 30% ............. 29%

Is a strong leader ................. 28 .............. 22

Is intelligent ..................... 43 .............. 34

Would look out for the

interests of the middle class ...... 22 .............. 24

Would work well in a crisis ........ 21 .............. 20

Would keep taxes down .............. 11 .............. 16

Is a warm, likable person .......... 24 .............. 20

Is trustworthy ..................... 25 .............. 18

Would look out for the interests

of children and families ........... 35 .............. 24

Is an exciting leader .............. 14 .............. 15

Is honest .......................... 24 .............. 17

Q: Considering everything, are you satisfied with your choices in the governor's race, or do you wish that someone else was running?

Satisfied with choices ............ 63%

Wish someone else was running ..... 34

Q: Are you more likely or less likely to vote for Mary Sue Terry for governor because she is a woman, or doesn't that matter one way the other?

Doesn't matter: 92%

More likely: 5%

Less likely: 3%

Q: Are you more likely or less likely to vote for George F. Allen for governor because he has a wife and children, or doesn't that matter one way or the other?

Doesn't matter: 89%

More likely: 9%

Less likely: 1%

Don't know: 1%

*Likely voters are defined as Virginia voters who say they are certain to vote in the November election.

**Includes Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas and Manassas Park.

Note: Figures represent all voters, except where noted. Numbers may not add to 100% because "Don't know" is not included. Figures are from a Washington Post telephone poll conducted Sept. 24-28, among a random sample of 801 self-described registered voters and 588 likely voters in Virginia. Margin of sampling error is, however, only one of many potential sources of error in this or any public opinion poll. Interviewing was conducted by Chilton Research Services of Radnor, Pa.

-- Compiled by Sharon Warden




Who is the governor of Virginia? ›

Governor Glenn Youngkin announced today the appointment of Dale Farino as the new Chief Executive Officer of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC), effective April 29, 2024.

Who is next in line for governor in Virginia? ›

When the Governor-elect is disqualified, resigns, or dies following his election but prior to taking office, the Lieutenant Governor-elect shall succeed to the office of Governor for the full term.

How many terms can a VA governor serve? ›

While the Governor is limited by the Constitution of Virginia to serving only one four year term, there is no limit on the number of terms that can be served by the Lieutenant Governor.

Is the new governor of Virginia a Republican? ›

The 74th and current governor is Glenn Youngkin, a Republican elected in 2021.

Who is Virginia's current lieutenant governor? ›

Current Republican Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earl-Sears has not announced her future plans yet. Virginia lieutenant governors can run for consecutive terms, unlike governors.

Was Jefferson ever governor of Virginia? ›

During the American Revolution, Jefferson represented Virginia at the Second Continental Congress and served as the second governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781. In 1785, Congress appointed Jefferson U.S. minister to France, where he served from 1785 to 1789.

Was James Monroe a governor of Virginia? ›

Among many other positions including Secretary of State, Monroe served as a member of the Congress of the Confederation from 1783 until 1786, a U.S. Senator from 1790 until 1794, Governor of Virginia from 1799 until 1802 and in 1811, and U.S. President from 1817 until 1824.

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