VIRGINIA

Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell approval ratings at two-year lows, poll shows

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell has dipped to his the lowest job-approval rating in two years in a statewide poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University, but he appears unharmed by his ties to the top executive of a troubled nutritional supplements maker who lavished gifts on McDonnell and his family.

Forty-nine percent of the 1,286 registered voters interviewed from May 8-13 approved of the governor's performance while 28 percent disapproved and 23 percent didn't know.

That's down from his rating of 53 percent in statewide Quinnipiac surveys from February and March and his high of 62 percent in October of 2011, the first year the Connecticut-based university began polling in Virginia, a swing state in the 2012 presidential election.

The findings conflict with another statewide survey just 10 days ago by the Washington Post that found 64 percent of its respondents approved of McDonnell's performance.

The two widely divergent polls come amid news reports that the FBI is asking questions about McDonnell's relationship with Jonnie Williams, the CEO of Glen Allen-based Star Scientific Inc., a former tobacco-products company under a federal securities investigation and the subject of three shareholders' lawsuits.

A separate Virginia State Police investigation continues into kitchen operations at the Executive Mansion under McDonnell. The probe resulted in the March indictment of former Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider on four embezzlement counts. Schneider alleges in court filings in his case that members of McDonnell's family took food and other supplies for personal use from the kitchen and that he was told to take food from the mansion as compensation for personal services.

Williams gave McDonnell's daughter, Calin, a $15,000 check in 2011 to help her cover costs of her June 2011 Executive Mansion wedding reception, including the bill for catering the event from Schneider's private catering and events firm. McDonnell said he did not report the gift on his statement of economic interests for 2011 because state laws compel state officials only to disclose gifts given directly to them, not to family members.

Few voters are aware of any of that, and even fewer are concerned about it, the Quinnipiac poll suggests.

Only 12 percent felt McDonnell was involved in serious wrongdoing, 16 percent felt he had not, but 65 percent either hadn't heard enough about the controversy or declined to answer. Forty-four percent dismissed it as "just politics," 44 percent knew too little about to answer questions, and just 12 percent felt it was a major issue.

While McDonnell's relationship to Williams hasn't resonated among voters, "that could change depending on developments, but at this point many more voters see the mater as 'just politics' than a major issue," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The poll found that Virginia's most popular elected figure was U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner with a 59 percent job-approval mark; 46 percent approved of the performance of Virginia's freshman senator, Tim Kaine.

President Barack Obama's statewide job approval ticked up slightly this month, to 49 percent from 45 percent in March, but still lagged behind his Virginia high of 52 percent in Quinnipiac's polls from January and from last November.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican who abandoned his bid for governor and is not seeking re-election to a third term, saw his approval mark hold at 37 percent, where it stood in March, while 17 percent disapproved.

The least popular elected entity was the Virginia General Assembly. Thirty-eight percent of respondents approved of the job the legislature is doing, while 42 percent disapproved and 20 percent didn't know or didn't respond.

The poll, conducted from live telephone interviews, had a margin of sampling error of plus-or-minus 2.7 percentage points.

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