A poll of the race for governor of Virginia published Monday shows that Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam has opened up a 17-point lead with likely voters over Republican Ed Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.
The poll conducted by Quinnipiac University comes a little more than a week before voters go to the polls, showing Northam leading Gillespie, 53% to 36%. Libertarian Cliff Hyra garnered 3% support.
Despite the encouraging numbers for Democrats, a source familiar with the Northam campaign's thinking said that while they believe the lieutenant governor is leading the race, the margins actually are much closer. Prior surveys are consistent with that theory. A tracking poll from the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University shows the Democrat with a seven-point lead. The Wason Center will issue the results of their final tracking poll the Monday before the November 7 election.
Virginia holds its gubernatorial race the year after the presidential election and their governor's race vote historically draws substantially smaller turnout.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won the presidential election in Virginia, and the state's Democrats are counting on better-than-average turnout in response to Donald Trump's presidency.
Republicans have not won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009. Gillespie is hoping to turn that tide. He narrowly lost a US Senate race to incumbent Mark Warner in 2014, setting the state for his run for governor this year.
The Quinnipiac survey was conducted October 25-29, featured responses from 916 Virginia likely voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points. The survey was conducted by live interview to cell phones and landlines.
"We use screen questions to determine likely voters," Quinnipiac University stated on its website in describing its likely voter model. "We use different screen questions depending on the election (ie. primary vs general election, presidential vs. off-year election, etc.). In past elections, we have used questions measuring intention to vote, attention to the campaign, past voting behavior, and interest in politics to identify who is likely vote."