There is not much good electoral news to be had for Republicans of late. Sure, the party has held onto every Congressional seat up this year though they occurred in red turf. But, down-ballot, the GOP has suffered losses in ruby red Oklahoma all the way to a light blue swing state senate district in New Hampshire. Indeed, this district is a fairly accurate barometer of the political mood and has swung narrowly between the parties.
That said, many of the districts Democrats have been winning are sleepy little special elections with low turnout in an off year. But, when the spotlight has gotten bigger, none so than GA-6, the party has been unable to cross the finishing line. Might we be seeing the same thing in Virginia? Republicans sure hope so and they got some good news on that front today.
A brand new, independent survey on the Virginia gubernatorial race from Monmouth finds the Governor’s race tied at 44 percent between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat (and former Republican) Ralph Northam.
After the dust had settled from the primary last month, Northam won impressively a contested primary while Ed Gillespie almost blew an easy primary. As a result, the assumption was between this and Trump there was little shot of a Gillespie win here. But the Monmouth poll shows he has a very real, albeit narrow path. Further, despite the natural advantages Northam has with Trump and the blue NoVA suburbs, the state can still see big and unexpected electoral swings.
Per the study’s authors, “The Monmouth University Poll also found some interesting regional differences in current vote intentions. Northam has a 13 point lead over Gillespie in Northern Virginia (50% to 37%) and a 9 point lead in the eastern part of the commonwealth (50%-41%). The race is virtually tied in the central region (43% Gillespie and 41% Northam), while Gillespie has an 18 point advantage in the western half of Virginia (52% to 34% for Northam). Four years ago, when McAuliffe won a narrow victory, the Democrat had a larger 22 point advantage over his Republican opponent in NoVa (58%-36%). Compared to the current poll, the Democrat had a similar 9 point margin in the east (51%-42%), but also had a 4 point edge in central Virginia (47%-43%). The 2013 Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, won the western region by 21 points (57%-36%) that year, which is similar to Gillespie’s current advantage there. When Gillespie himself lost an even narrower race for U.S. Senate the following year, his Democratic opponent Mark Warner claimed a 17 point advantage in NoVa and a 12 point win in the east (55%-43%). Gillespie actually beat Warner by 6 points in central Virginia (52%-46%) and by 19 points in the west (58%-39%).”
The regional breakdown is interesting here. The best comparison to this year might be the 2013 Governor’s race and the 2014 Senate contest. In the latter contest, Gillespie almost upset Warner (if not for Fairfax county). Current Governor Terry McAuliffe won by a more comfortable 2.5 percent.
McAuliffe’s win was predicated on a better result in NoVA and the eastern portion of the state, home to affluent Democrats and minorities. Warner, due to his time as Governor, outperformed McAuliffe in the Western portion of the state which helped make up for his poor performance in NoVA.
Gillespie lost to Warner by 17 percent in NoVA and according to this poll he is exceeding it. This is probably because Gillespie is the type of Republican the more affluent Republicans in the Northern Virginia suburbs can support (ie. Bob McDonnell). If Gillespie can exceed his numbers in NoVA in the age of Trump he definitely is on target to be competitive (at a minimum).
Northam hails from Eastern Virginia. Reflecting the shifting preferences of voters, Northam, a former Republican turned Democrat, is winning the region by 9 percent. However, this is a 3 point drop from Warner in 2014. Northam will need to pad his margins in the region to win by the mid to high single digits.
Showcasing the differing natures of elections, Warner won Centra VA 52-46 based on his overperformance in Richmond. Northam is losing it 43-41. Again, this is probably because Gillespie is a conventional Republican and is campaigning on local and not federal issues. The exact issues that can still win over fiscally moderate and socially liberal voters repelled by Trump.
Lastly, in Western Virginia, Gillespie has an 18 point edge compared to 19 point win in 2014. Republicans should be happy with the poll results but by no means rest on their laurels.
This is but one poll and national trends have not been kind to the GOP. However, as GA-6 showed, the GOP base can be mobilized if given the right incentive. Secondly, if one digs into the cross-tabs the contours of the race show Gillespie is swimming against the President.
Among the 12 percent of voters who are undecided the President has a 22 percent approval rating compared to 60 percent who disapprove. Gillespie is fortunate a significant chunk of these voters backed third party candidates last year making their support for Northam less likely against a conventional Republican.
Secondly, among Gillespie supporters 78 percent approve of the President and 18 percent disapprove. That is a high number and it shows just how much Gillespie has to outperform the President to win. Among all voters, the President is at 37 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval. More worrying for Gillespie is a plurality of voters, 35 percent, of voters identified healthcare as the top issue. If Trump were not a factor in the race (admittedly this is a hypothetical), Gillespie would lead 45 percent to 40 percent though many undecideds would still lean left.
It is not all bad news for Gillespie. He does enjoy a narrow 42-38 edge among Independents and leads among non-college graduates by a bigger margin than Northam does with college grads.
Still, all in all, the poll is good news for Republicans at a time when they need it badly. Combined with the Senate GOP finally being able to move Obamacare repeal forward they might say they have some sort of momentum. It also helps when Democrats unveil a slogan stolen from a pizza company run by a registered Republican.
Virginia, despite trending blue, is showing its swing status. Republicans hope it holds and this poll and recent political events should give them hope it will continue.