By JIm Ellis
Jan. 18, 2017 — Yesterday, we wrote an update that quoted a December Public Opinion Strategies (POS) survey testing the Virginia gubernatorial candidates (Dec. 11-13; 500 likely Virginia voters; Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) 43 percent — ex-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie 38 percent) and made the statement that the poll is still worth considering because not much would politically change over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Apparently, such is not the case.
A more current study (Mason-Dixon Polling & Research; Jan. 5-10; 625 registered Virginia voters) shows a different result. According to the Mason-Dixon data, it is Gillespie who leads, forging a 44-41 percent advantage over Lt. Gov. Northam.
In the previous POS poll, the other Republican potential candidates, Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner, were within basically the same range as Gillespie.
That’s inconsistent with Mason-Dixon, however. In this poll, Northam does considerably better against Stewart, leading him by a relatively robust 45-38 percent spread. Wagner was not tested, probably because the state legislator had less than 10 percent name identification according to this same sampling universe.
The M-D survey is also the first to test former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville) after his official entrance into the gubernatorial campaign. In pairing the former Democratic Congressman with Gillespie, the Republican’s advantage is even greater, leading 45-36 percent. Like Northam, Perriello has an edge when paired with Stewart (40-38 percent).
The polling suggests the candidates are beginning on a relatively even footing. Gillespie’s lead can largely be attributed to a name ID advantage. He is by far the best known of the candidates, with 73 percent expressing familiarity with him. Lt. Gov. Northam is actually unknown to 49 percent of electorate, at least according to this particular sampling group. But, since Virginia lieutenant governors get very little news coverage because their power is insignificant, the Mason-Dixon findings appear reasonable.
The Washington Examiner is reporting about a potential new Republican candidate in the mix of prospects weighing a challenge against Sen. Tim Kaine (D). National talk show host Laura Ingraham (R) is apparently beginning to test the waters to launch her own statewide campaign, even to the point where those close to her are buying the appropriate campaign web domains. Ingraham has no response about whether she is contemplating such a political move.
It is unlikely that any serious opposition to Sen. Kaine comes to the forefront before the statewide races conclude in 2017. Therefore, Ingraham and the others mentioned as possible candidates: former presidential and California US Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, Reps. David Brat (R-Glen Allen), and Barbara Comstock (R-McLean), will have the luxury of quietly building a campaign base and organization if they choose to enter the race.
Reps. Brat and Comstock may not now be as likely to jump into what has to be considered a long-shot challenge race since both must risk their House seats. Each was re-elected to second terms in November -– Comstock in the tougher race, winning 53-47 percent even while Hillary Clinton was carrying the 10th District by 10 points – and may want to keep their current positions. A great deal of speculation surrounding them both was prevalent when it appeared a 2017 special Senate election would be held after Sen. Kaine’s predicted election as vice president.
The Senate race will clearly be more difficult in the regular election when the Virginia turnout will be higher, which is why the GOP’s gubernatorial prospects may be brighter. Kaine defeated former Sen. George Allen (R) in 2012 by a 53-47 percent margin, while President Obama carried the Commonwealth over Mitt Romney, 51-47 percent. In this election just past, with Kaine appearing on the Virginia ballot as Clinton’s running mate, the Democratic margin exceeded Obama’s victory spread, climbing to 50-44 percent.