There’s a week to go in the key gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. A Democratic Governor’s Association conference call yesterday sought to manage expectations, saying that the party out of the White House has come back to win both governorships in five straight elections, and if Republicans lose one of these races they would be “the first to break that streak.” This acknowledges that one race looks much better than the other.

Polls today from The Washington Post, Public Policy Polling and SurveyUSA show Bob McDonnell (R) with a double-digit lead over Creigh Deeds (D) in Virginia. Meanwhile, polls from Rasmussen and PPP show a race within the margin of error between Jon Corzine (D) and Chris Christie (R), with independent Chris Daggett’s level of support being the wild-card. One poll yesterday from Suffolk University had Corzine up by 9, the only poll outside the margin of error in months.

What can explain this difference? Corzine is an incumbent, but this is not an incumbent-friendly year. Corzine is leading the money race, but Deeds isn’t all that far behind of McDonnell in Virginia. The presence of Daggett taking some of the anti-Corzine vote is certainly a factor. And New Jersey is more of a reliably blue state than Virginia.

Still, I cannot help but think that Corzine’s bold progressive stands – on infrastructure, on green jobs, on marriage equality, on stimulus – stand in stark contrast to Deeds, who has talked about opting Virginia out of the public option and opposing a cap and trade bill. Deeds has shown some foresight in transportation policy, including a willingness to pay for better service. But overall, he has played off the centrist, don’t-make-waves Republican-lite textbook, while Corzine has front-loaded his liberal credentials.

And we’ll see the results of that strategy on November 3. But it looks like people prefer a real choice.