Virginia's Governor Race Is Shaping Up To Be A Close One

Ariel Edwards-Levy
A gubernatorial debate takes place between Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, left, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam on Sept. 19 in McLean, Virginia. (The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Virginians will head to the polls to choose a new governor in less than a month, and as three new surveys show, the race is shaping up to be a close one.

Two surveys released Tuesday give the Democratic candidate, Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a modest edge over Ed Gillespie, the Republican former chair of the Republican National Committee. One poll, from Christopher Newport University, puts Northam up by 4 points ― the first time, the pollsters note, that they’ve found his lead within the margin of error. The other, from Roanoke College, gives him a 6-point advantage. Both are in keeping with previous surveys of the race, which have largely found Northam ahead, but far from comfortably so.

(HuffPost)

A third poll, from Monmouth University, shows Northam taking 47 percent to Gillespie’s 48 percent. That the poll shows Northam underwater for the first time isn’t in itself especially significant, beyond indicating that the race is indeed tight. Several previous surveys, including a July Monmouth poll, found the two men tied. But the new results represent a downturn for Northam from the outlet’s previous poll, which gave him a 5-point edge.

“This has never been more than a five point race in Monmouth’s polling, and that means either candidate has a very real shot at winning this thing,” Patrick Murray, Monmouth’s polling director, said in a statement. “We have seen lots of little movement that has either helped or hurt each candidate but with neither one being able to break out.”  

Murray credited the shift in part to Gillespie’s controversial ad campaign painting his opponent as soft on crime, and accusing him of enabling the MS-13 gang.

With few other competing elections happening this year, the Virginia gubernatorial race has comes under a national spotlight. President Donald Trump, who endorsed Gillespie, used Twitter to accuse Northam of “fighting for” MS-13. But Trump is unpopular in the state, and Gillespie has largely sought to keep his distance from the president.

“Importantly for Gillespie, he’s not seen as someone who is Trumpian,” Geoffrey Skelley of Sabato’s Crystal Ball wrote in a comprehensive look at the state of the campaign. But he noted that Gillespie ”has in some ways taken pages out of the same playbook Trump used in 2016″ by focusing on crime and immigration.

Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, is heading to the state Thursday to campaign for Northam. Former Vice President Joe Biden also made an appearance last weekend.

Despite Northam’s apparent edge, Democrats are concerned about the race, citing internal campaign polling that shows Gillespie well within striking distance, according to The Daily Beast. Virginia Democrats have also underperformed at the polls in several recent elections, although that calculus could look different under a Republican presidency.

“Republicans have closed well in the last weeks of the campaign in the 2013 gubernatorial contest and in Gillespie’s challenge to Sen. Mark Warner in 2014,” Roanoke College poll director Harry Wilson noted in the survey release. “Republicans came up short both times, but the results on Election Day were closer than most, if not all, polls had predicted.”

The Monmouth poll surveyed 408 likely voters between Oct. 12-16, while the Christopher Newport poll surveyed 642 likely voters between Oct. 9-13, and Roanoke College surveyed 607 likely voters from Oct. 8-13. All three polls used live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones.

MORE OF THE LATEST POLLING NEWS:

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WHAT THE POLLING AVERAGES SAY AS OF TUESDAY AFTERNOON:

Trump job approval among all Americans: 39% approve, 57% disapprove

Trump job approval among Democrats: 7% approve, 90% disapprove

Trump job approval among Republicans: 80% approve, 16% disapprove

Trump job approval among independents: 34% approve, 59% disapprove

Generic House: 42% Democratic candidate, 36% Republican candidate

Obamacare favorability: 48% favor, 41% oppose

‘OUTLIERS’ - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-A wave of surveys conducted after the Las Vegas shooting examine the nation’s attitudes toward guns. [Quinnipiac, NPR, Ipsos, Gallup]

-Americans are growing increasingly likely to view sexual harassment as a serious problem. [PBS, WashPost]

-Democracy is really quite popular. [Pew Global]

-A plurality of Americans think President Trump is unlikely to achieve his campaign promises. [HuffPost]

-CBS takes a look at perceptions of the relationship between Trump and the congressional GOP. [CBS]

-Jim Norman analyzes the strength of Americans’ feelings about Trump. [Gallup]

-Joshua Kalla and David Broockman look at the voter persuasion tactics that actually work. [WashPost]

-The percentage of New Hampshire residents who rate drugs as the state’s most important problem has skyrocketed. [UNH]

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  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.