By Jim Ellis
June 13, 2017 — The Virginia governor’s campaign is becoming a national race in relation to prognosticating political trends, and we will be able to glean some partial answers this evening.
Initially, the eventual Virginia general election winner earns the redistricting veto pen for the 2021 redraw, and becomes the first newly elected governor to have such authority. All other states where redistricting is handled through the normal legislative process will elect their commensurate governors in 2018, 2019, and/or 2020.
Second, the Commonwealth’s Democratic primary race has evolved into an early microcosm of what Democrats may be experiencing throughout the country this year and next, and quite possibly beyond.
The split between the party’s more extreme Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren faction and the traditional liberal Hillary Clinton segment is portrayed in the Tom Perriello/Ralph Northam gubernatorial primary. Though former US Rep. Perriello is wrapping himself in the Sanders/Warren mantra, going so far as having them star in his ads along with film clips of President Obama extolling his virtue when he was a member of the House, Perriello’s initiative has driven Lt. Gov. Northam to adopt more leftward ideological positions, as well.
It remains to be seen if the Republicans, presumably in the guise of former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, can successfully box tonight’s Democratic winner outside the Virginia political mainstream. The two Democrats have ventured far to the left in order to capture the party nomination, so it will be curious to see if the winner gravitates back toward the political center. While Virginia has undoubtedly taken a left turn since the 2000 election in terms of voting pattern, the state as a whole has not gone so far as the tone Perriello, in particular, has set for this primary campaign.
For his part, Lt. Gov. Northam has attempted to match Perriello’s demonstrated strength with the Democratic base, but we can definitely expect him to tack toward the center if he captures the nomination tonight. Perriello, on the other hand, is likely to remain consistent with his ideology. While the latter could energize the party base in the general election, an important facet for what is typically a lower odd-year turnout than what we see even for mid-term elections, he simultaneously will allow Gillespie to move more in line with the preponderance of Virginians.
Most polling suggests a close Democratic finish, while Gillespie should win comfortably in today’s respective intra-party contests. The Change Research organization, however, just produced a highly convoluted survey (June 8-10, 3,623 Virginia adults; 3,232 registered Virginia voters; 1,165 likely Democratic primary voters; 919 likely Republican primary voters via online responses) that draws different conclusions. It finds Perriello ahead 54-46 percent, for example, flying in the face of most available data that suggests at least a close Northam win.
Gillespie appears well positioned to cruise for the Republican nomination tonight, but Change Research also casts aspersions over what has been unanimous agreement among pollsters who uniformly predict victory for the former national and Virginia party chairman.
The Change Research data is attempting to project turnout, primary voting preference, and candidate support factors for both parties, but the disjointed polling explanation leaves one guessing as to their actual premise and who comprises their respondent base. For example, though they post Gillespie to a 45-41 percent overall lead among self-identified Republicans, they project that Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart could win the race because he has the more committed, but much smaller, support base.
Their Democratic sample appears to possess an age skew, as younger voters look to be over-represented in relation to what should be today’s overall turnout model. This gives Perriello a boost because he performs better within the younger segment.
There is no other credible data suggesting that Gillespie will lose, but Perriello does appear at least in position to potentially upset Lt. Gov. Northam.
Tonight’s result will carry political ramifications well beyond the Virginia borders. We will see much analysis about these two primary contests in the coming days, in addition to projecting what we can expect moving forward into the general election.