The Corner

Politics & Policy

‘Hi, Do You Know Me? I’m Your Lieutenant Governor…’

A new Mason-Dixon poll released moments ago shows Democrat Ralph Northam barely ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie, 44 percent to 43 percent, in Virginia’s governor’s race. That’s the third close poll this week. As noted in today’s Morning Jolt, in the year of “The Resistance” and the start of the alleged great Democratic comeback, Virginia Democrats have ended up with a pretty “meh” and little-known candidate atop their ticket.

Tonight, Virginians see Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie face off in another gubernatorial debate. Yesterday, two state universities released new polls on the race; University of Mary Washington’s survey found Northam ahead, 44 percent to 39 percent, while the Suffolk University poll had the race perfectly tied, 40 percent to 40 percent. (The individual respondents in that latter poll split perfectly evenly, 202 to 202.)

Something that should worry Democrats: In the Suffolk poll, almost 20 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Ralph Northam; ten percent said the same for Gillespie. (His oh-so-close Senate bid from 2014 probably helps with his name recognition.)

A bit more than 29 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Northam, 22 percent said they had a negative one. The remaining 29 percent said they had no opinion or were undecided.  Gillepsie had a 37-28 split on favorability.

Ralph Northam has been lieutenant governor for the past four years, and roughly half the state is unfamiliar with him. What, has he been in witness protection? I was initially underwhelmed with the Gillespie campaign’s “No-Show Northam” theme – mocking Northam for missing a lot of meetings. But maybe this will resonate; maybe the message can be even simpler: Did you know Ralph Northam has been your lieutenant governor for the past four years? If he hasn’t done anything that you’ve even heard about in that job… why would anyone make him governor?  

Northam’s campaign is still running ads that effectively act as an introduction to voters – emphasizing his service as a doctor in the U.S. Army and a pediatrician. It’s mid-to-late September! Absentee voting starts Friday!

Notice the closing image of his ads tout “Doctor-Veteran” Northam. His campaign doesn’t want to remind voters he’s been lieutenant governor for the past four years! 

One oddity in the Mary Washington poll is also worth spotlighting. More respondents supported Northam than Gillespie, but when asked, “Regardless of how you might vote in the 2017 election for governor in Virginia, as far as you know, do you think most of your neighbors will vote for (Ed Gillespie, the Republican), most will vote for (Ralph Northam, the Democrat), or will most of them split their votes?” Among registered voters, 30 percent said Gillespie and 22 percent said Northam, and among likely voters, 32 percent said Gillespie and 25 percent said Northam. In other words, a slightly larger number of Virginians think their neighbors will mostly vote for Gillespie.

Finally, the Suffolk survey also asked, “Does Senator Tim Kaine deserve to be reelected in 2018 – yes or no?” and 43.4 percent answered yes, 45.8 percent answered no. I would be shocked if Kaine lost next year, but that feels like a terrible number for an incumbent. In fact, this isn’t just any incumbent; this is a guy who had 1.9 million people in the state vote to make him vice president last year!

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