Yesterday, Monmouth released a poll of the Virginia Governor’s race. Despite the conventional wisdom that Democratic LG Ralph Northam would be favored, they found him tied with Ed Gillespie (R), at 44%.
Nestled into the report were some regional breakdowns:
The Monmouth University Poll also found some interesting regional differences in current vote intentions. Northam has a 13 point lead over Gillespie in Northern Virginia (50% to 37%) and a 9 point lead in the eastern part of the commonwealth (50%-41%). The race is virtually tied in the central region (43% Gillespie and 41% Northam), while Gillespie has an 18 point advantage in the western half of Virginia (52% to 34% for Northam).
Four years ago, when McAuliffe won a narrow victory, the Democrat had a larger 22 point advantage over his Republican opponent in NoVa (58%-36%). Compared to the current poll, the Democrat had a similar 9 point margin in the east (51%-42%), but also had a 4 point edge in central Virginia (47%-43%). The 2013 Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, won the western region by 21 points (57%-36%) that year, which is similar to Gillespie’s current advantage there. When Gillespie himself lost an even narrower race for U.S. Senate the following year, his Democratic opponent Mark Warner claimed a 17 point advantage in NoVa and a 12 point win in the east (55%-43%). Gillespie actually beat Warner by 6 points in central Virginia (52%-46%) and by 19 points in the west (58%-39%).
Perhaps the two best bechmarks for this race are the last Governor’s race, in 2013, and the Senate race, in 2014. In the latter race, Gillespie himself came within a point of upsetting Sen. Mark Warner; in the former, current Gov. Terry McAuliffe won by a somewhat more comfortable 2.5%. Here’s a comparison of those two races:
Here’s an interactive county-level breakdown of the precinct map above.
Warner fared worse in northern Virginia, conversely meaning Gillespie performed better there. Even in his weak performance there, Warner still managed to carry NOVA by 17% – in this poll, Gillespie has gotten Northam’s advantage there down to a more competitive 13%. This is somewhat surprising, as the Trump factor would most be a liability to Gillespie here. Still, Gillespie’s 2014 numbers there are a good target for him this time around, and going by this poll, he’s on track to exceed it.
Another good sign for Gillespie is that he’s holding up better in eastern VA, despite Northam being from that region. Compared to 2014, he’s losing the region by 9% instead of 12%. This includes Democratic leaning areas like Hampton Roads, and some swingier areas like Virginia Beach.
However, there are some good signs for Northam. A big reason Mark Warner won in 2014 was his overperformance in the Richmond area. In suburban Henrico County, for example, he exceeded President Obama’s 2012 margin. In the ‘central VA’ region, which includes this. Northam is turning Warner’s 52/46 into a closer 43/41 loss. One county to watch here will be Chesterfield, a traditionally suburban county south of Richmond which has been trending left; Gillespie will likely need to win there by at least high single-digits.
Finally, in western VA, the least elastic region, Northam is essentially matching Warner, who did comparatively well there.
Some of these results definitely seem to go against our expectations, suggesting a very fluid race. We currently have Virginia Governor as Leans Democratic, though if this type of polling holds up, we’ll consider moving it to a more competitive category.