(CNN) - A new poll indicates that Republican Robert McDonnell leads Democrat Creigh Deeds in this year's battle for Virginia governor.
According to a Washington Post survey released Sunday, 47 percent of registered voters in Virginia say they'd vote for McDonnell if the governor's election were held today, with 40 percent backing Deeds.
The poll suggests that the seven point lead widens to a 54 percent to 39 percent lead for McDonnell among people likely to vote in the November contest.
The survey indicates that the two candidates are running about even in northern Virginia among registered voters. Democrats have won large majorities this decade in the voter rich region. According to the survey, McDonnell leads Deeds by nine points in the rest of the state.
Among registered voters, 13 percent remain undecided and another 39 percent who are backing either Deeds or McDonnell say they could change their mind. Only 48 percent said their minds are made up.
McDonnell is the former Virginia state attorney general. Deeds is a state senator. Virginia's incumbent governor, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, is term-limited and can't run for re-election.
President Barack Obama campaigned for Deeds in northern Virginia earlier this month. Obama won the state in last year's race for the White House, becoming the first Democrat to take Virginia in a presidential election since 1964.
Just over a third of those questioned say that Obama's endorsement of Deeds makes them more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate. An equal amount say the president's backing makes them less like to vote for Deeds and three in ten say it makes no difference.
Last month, the president teamed up at a campaign rally with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who faces a tough re-election battle this year.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only states to hold gubernatorial elections this year. While both contests will focus on state issues and the strengths of the candidates, national Republicans would like to make both races a referendum on Obama and the Democratic Party, since both seats are currently held by Democrats.
"After two tough election cycles, the Republican Party is in need of some good news," says CNN Political Editor Mark Preston. "If the GOP is able to win both of these seats, it will be viewed by some as a shift in momentum away from the president and congressional Democrats. Even a pickup of one of these seats would be a huge psychological victory for Republicans heading into the 2010 midterm elections."
How can the GOP give a local race national resonance? Force the Democratic candidate in a generally conservative state to publicly side with the national party, then highlight those stands. Take the federal stimulus: Deeds favors accepting the federal funds, and McDonnell opposes the idea. Last month, during the candidates' first debate, McDonnell challenged Deeds to state where he stands on a number of other national issues. Deeds, meanwhile, accused McDonnell of focusing too heavily on federal questions.
The Washington Post Poll was conducted August 11-14, with 1,002 adults in Virginia questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus four percentage points for likely voters.
–CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby contributed to this report.