Washington (CNN) – In the early days of his campaign for governor in Virginia, Republican Bob McDonnell hired veteran GOP pollster Glen Bolger to take the pulse of the state's notoriously independent-minded voters.
Bolger asked voters if they'd rather elect of governor who would work with President Obama to implement his plans for the economy, or a governor who would serve as a check on Democrats in Washington.
Fifty-five percent wanted a governor who planned to stand up the president, Bolger discovered, while just 35 percent desired someone who would help the White House. It wasn't what he'd expected to find.
"I was kind surprised by that result, because I thought people would say that's not really a factor in the governor's race," Bolger said, noting that McDonnell won the race by a similar margin. "But people saw it as almost like Democrats are oversteering too much in one direction, and they wanted correction."
After dismal election cycles in 2006 and 2008, Republicans are hoping that signs of discomfort with President Obama's agenda will translate into big gains in governor's mansions around the country next November. They point to off-year wins this month in Virginia and New Jersey as early proof that a backlash against Democratic overreach in Washington is underway.