A poll released March 28 shows incumbent Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam still tied with former congressman Tom Perriello ahead of the June 13 Democratic primary. The Christopher Newport University poll showed Democratic primary voters tied at 26 percent support for each candidate, though 45 percent are still undecided.
For Perriello, a late entrant in the race who has campaigned on progressive values, this is the latest indicator that his upstart run at the governor’s mansion has momentum against Northam, who has received the vast majority of endorsements from establishment Democrats. The same poll conduced by CNU’s Wason Center for Public Policy less than two months ago found Perriello trailing Northam 26 percent to 15 percent, and a more recent poll by Quinnipiac University had the two Democrats tied.
The new poll also found Perriello and Northam’s supporters are dividing along the same lines as supporters for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Virginia’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Clinton voters favor Northam (34%) over Perriello (25%), while Sanders voters back Perriello (32%) over Northam (21%).
“Just a few months ago, nobody expected to be saying that the real action in this primary would be on the Democratic side, but that’s where it is,” said Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd as part of his analysis for the poll. “The Democratic primary for governor looks to be a replay in some respects of last year’s presidential primary.”
President Donald Trump’s increasing unpopularity in Virginia, a state won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, could also play a factor in the gubernatorial race. Most Virginia voters say they disapprove of how Trump is handling his job as president, and his job approval stands at 37%, with 59% disapproving.
Virginia’s statewide elections, which accompany New Jersey as the only two conducted in a year following a presidential election, are considered a barometer of the national mood and in some ways a referendum on the president. In every gubernatorial election from 1977 until 2013, Virginians voted in a governor who was the opposite party of the president elected the year before. That stopped last time, when Democrat Barack Obama was re-elected president in 2012 and Democrat Terry McAuliffe was elected governor in 2013.
This poll didn’t ask voters to pick who they supported in a hypothetical head-to-head match up in the general election, but other recent polls have shown both Democrats leading all potential GOP nominees.
The CNU poll also shows Republican Ed Gillespie with a growing lead over his two remaining challengers for his party’s nomination. The former GOP chair and 2014 Senate candidate garnered 38 percent support of likely Republican primary voters, his highest mark so far in a major poll. Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart garnered 11 percent, and state Sen. Frank Wagner garnered 10 percent, while 38 percent of Republican votes were undecided.
In the Republican race for Lt. Gov, state Sen. Jill Vogel has emerged on the top in the three-person contest. Vogel, whose district includes part of Loudoun County, earned 17 percent support. Challengers Bryce Reeves, also a state Senator, and Del. Glenn Davis received 10 and 13 percent, respectively, while 57 percent of voters are undecided. It’s a notable drop for Reeves.
On the Democratic side, Susan Platt has taken a lead in the Lt. Gov. race. The former chief of staff to U.S. Vice President Joe Bidden, Platt garnered 20 percent of the vote while former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax received 11 percent and former Virginia prosecutor Gene Rossi received six percent. The poll showed 60 percent of voters were undecided in this race.
The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.7 percent, with a 95 percent confidence interval.