Virginia Starting to Sway

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 19, 2017 — It has been presumed for the past week that Republican Ed Gillespie is gaining momentum in his quest to become governor of Virginia. The emphasis on attacking Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) with a series of ads (see video above) casting him as being weak on crime and illegal immigration was thought to be paying political dividends. Now we have some independent data verifying that the race is significantly tightening.

Three new polls came into the public domain yesterday, with one actually showing Gillespie forging into a slight lead, another finding him closing the gap, and a third from an entity with a history of inaccurate polling results that makes us want to discard their latest data.

New Jersey’s Monmouth University (Oct. 12-16; 408 likely Virginia voters) now finds Gillespie taking a one-point lead over Northam, 48-47 percent. The analysis segments the state into geographic divisions and compares their previous poll to the current data. Though this is a small sample poll – likely too small for a state the size of Virginia – the geographic delineations appear believable.

As one knew would be inevitable, Monmouth projects that Democratic Northern Virginia is becoming stronger for Northam, while Gillespie is now racking up big margins in the western part of the state. According to the Monmouth analysis, the central part of the state continues to be a swing area. This, too, provides good news for Gillespie as he now leads there 47-44 percent after trailing in the September Monmouth poll, 49-48 percent.

But the surprise area is the eastern part of the state, where Northam resides. In September, the lieutenant governor recorded a 49-40 percent advantage. Now, Gillespie has gained a net 12 points in the region to craft a lead, 48-45 percent.

The crime issue is now definitively swinging Gillespie’s way, indicating his advertising theme is working. He is now viewed as the better candidate to best handle the crime issue by 40 percent of the tested group versus 24 percent who say that Northam is the preferred candidate. This represents a net eight-point gain for Gillespie on the issue since the September poll, coinciding with his strong media blitz on the subject.

Christopher Newport University again went into the field, for the third time since mid-September. Their poll released yesterday (Oct. 9-13; 642 likely Virginia voters) finds Northam on top, 48-44 percent. But, the margins are improving for Gillespie, signaling positive momentum for his camp.

Last week, CNU released numbers from their Oct. 2-6 poll that projected a Northam advantage of 49-42 percent. In their mid-September survey, the margin was 47-41 percent. Therefore, Gillespie has reduced his deficit from beyond the polling margin of error to within.

The last poll comes from Roanoke University (Oct. 8-13; 607 likely Virginia voters) and finds the best numbers for Northam, 50-44 percent. Roanoke is consistently viewed as one of the least reliable pollsters, so it is not particularly surprising to see them project a different trend than the other pollsters. As usual, we discount the Roanoke results.

It seems obvious that Ed Gillespie is making a legitimate move on Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and has, at the very least, cut the latter man’s lead. The question arises as to whether this trend is a blip, or the beginning of a surge that could end in a Republican victory. With 20 days remaining in the campaign, we are now entering the critical stretch drive.

It still appears that Northam has a slight advantage, but Gillespie has now positioned himself to perhaps score an upset win come Nov. 7.

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