WASHINGTON — In one of this yearâ€™s most closely watchedSenateÂ contests, two new independent polls show Democrat Tim Kaine surging into the lead over RepublicanÂ George AllenÂ in the race to replace retiring Virginia Sen.Â Jim Webb.
AÂ Washington PostÂ poll found Kaine has an 8 percentage point lead over Allen, 51% to 43%. Thatâ€™s a significant shift since May, when the poll found the two candidates â€“ both former governors and well-known names in Virginia politics â€“ tied.
A separateÂ Quinnipiac University-CBS News-New York Times poll released Wednesday found Kaine had a 7 percentage point lead over Allen, 51% to 44%. A previous version of that poll, taken in late July and early August, showed Kaine with a smaller, 2 percentage point lead.
Kaineâ€™s surge comes as several Democratic Senate candidates appear to be pulling ahead in the weeks since the two partiesâ€™ nominating conventions. In Massachusetts, polls showElizabeth WarrenÂ surging past Republican Sen.Â Scott Brown. And in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin is tied with or leading RepublicanÂ Tommy Thompson, according to polls that had previously pegged Thompson with a comfortable lead.
The Virginia race is crucial to both partiesâ€™ efforts to win control of the Senate in November.Â DemocratsÂ need to hold the seats they already control, like the Virginia seat currently held by Webb, a Democrat.Â RepublicansÂ have been eying the Virginia seat as vulnerable, especially since the state has featured one of the most consistently competitive races this election cycle.
Virginia also is expected to play a crucial role in the presidential election.Â President Obama, in 2008, became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964. Democrats are hoping for a repeat victory this year, and the Washington Post poll is good news for them: Obama, like Kaine, enjoys an 8 percentage point lead over his Republican opponent, the poll found.
The Quinnipiac University-CBS News-New York Times poll found Obama leading GOP presidential nomineeÂ Mitt RomneyÂ in Virginia by 4 percentage points. Romneyâ€™s chances of winning theÂ White HouseÂ are sharply lower if he loses the once-reliable Republican state.
Kaineâ€™s edge, according to the Washington Post poll, appears to have come from growing support among women, seniors, and residents of the Richmond area, where Kaine once served as mayor. Kaine and Allen are scheduled to meet for a debate Thursday afternoon in McLean, Va.