Former one-term Virginia congressman Tom Perriello, a surprise late entrant to this year’s governor’s race, is tied with Lt. Gov Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination in a new Quinnipiac University poll. Perriello, noted for his progressive positions, was thought by most to be a long shot when entering the race in January. The statistical tie challenges that assumption and that Northam would cruise to the Democratic nomination.
During his two years in congress, Perriello was best known for his friendship and political alliance with former president Barack Obama. He has been an outspoken critic of president Donald Trump and recently made national headlines for calling his election “a political and constitutional Sep. 11” at a campaign event earlier this month. Perriello repeatedly apologized after the video of the comments was circulated online.
In the early stages of the campaign both candidates are still struggling to garner statewide name recognition and support. The poll showed only 38 percent of Democratic voters have a preference for Perriello or Northam (19 percent each) and 61 percent are still undecided. However, the poll shows both candidates topping any of their four Republican opponents in the general election.
Their biggest potential challenge in the general election appears to from former Republican National Committee chair and 2014 Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie. Quinnipiac’s results showed Perriello favored over Gillespie 43 to 36 percent and Northam winning 41 to 35 percent in head-to-head match ups.
“Although none of the candidates – Democrat or Republican – is very well known to the Virginia electorate, the Old Dominion obviously has a blue tinge at this point,” said assistant poll director Peter Brown in a statement. “The fact that relatively unknown Democrats are scoring better than relatively unknown Republicans indicates that for now at least this Democratic brand is more attractive to Virginia voters.”
On the Republican primary side, the poll shows Gillespie with 24 percent support, significantly ahead of Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart (7 percent), state Sen. Frank Wagner (5 percent) and business owner Denver Riggleman (2 percent). Gillespie also tops the Republican field, and the two Democrats, in support among independent voters.
The poll is the latest indicator of growing support for Gillespie within the GOP.
“While Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello try to one-up each other to impress the left-wing of their party, Ed Gillespie is setting the tone and building a campaign that can unite all Virginians,” said Gillespie campaign manager Chris Leavitt in a statement.