They say the only poll that matters is the one taken on Election Day. That may be especially true in this year’s Virginia Republican gubernatorial primary, which will choose the party’s nominee on May 8. Just days after a special election in Texas revealed the will of voters in that state’s 6th Congressional District, a record number of Republican delegates in the Old Dominion are set to participate in a “drive through” convention taking place at 37 locations across the state this Saturday.
The results of this hard-fought contest will also provide another clue as to the mood and makeup of a Republican Party trying to find its way after Donald Trump’s loss last November, and also attempting to regain its footing in a state that has moved solidly into the Democratic camp over the last few election cycles.
Although there are seven candidates in the field, it has essentially boiled down to a four-person race: Kirk Cox, a longtime member of the Virginia House of Delegates; state Sen. Amanda Chase; Pete Snyder, an entrepreneur and marketing executive who ran for lieutenant governor in 2013; and Glenn Youngkin (pictured), former co-CEO of the investment firm The Carlyle Group.
Chase has been the most aggressive in seeking to woo Trump supporters, going so far as to embrace the moniker “Trump in high heels” and winning the endorsement of Trump stalwarts Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
Cox is the establishment favorite, earning the endorsement of two former Virginia governors (Bob McDonnell and George Allen), a current congressman (Morgan Griffith), as well as former House member (Tom Davis), and about two dozen of his GOP colleagues in the House of Delegates.
Snyder and Youngkin have both offered themselves to voters as outsiders ready to shake up the establishment. Snyder has been endorsed by several former Trump administration officials, including Ken Cuccinelli and Sarah Sanders. Youngkin just recently snagged the endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz.
To say polling in this race has been sparse would be an understatement. Two surveys of registered Republican voters conducted in early February, one by the Democrat-affiliated YouGov Blue and the other by Christopher Newport University, showed essentially the same thing: Chase with a small lead over Cox and Snyder, Youngkin trailing further -- but with more than half of GOP voters “undecided.”
But a new poll for the Youngkin campaign by Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group shows a very different picture. Trafalgar, which shot to prominence in late 2016 after correctly forecasting Trump winning the White House thanks to narrow victories in Pennsylvania and Michigan, found Youngkin (38%) has a healthy, double-digit lead over Snyder (26%), with Chase and Cox tied at a distant third with 10% each. In the poll, 13% percent say they will vote for “other” and only 3% say they are undecided.
Unlike previous polls, Trafalgar did not just survey registered Republican voters. It contacted nearly 4,000 likely convention delegates between April 29 and May 3, reporting a margin of error of just 1.6 percentage points.
If the Trafalgar method is accurate, it suggests the landscape in the commonwealth has changed. Chase may have failed to expand her appeal, and Youngkin might have won over a lot of undecided Republican delegates with his focus on “universal issues” he argues can help win back suburban voters in Northern Virginia. But delegates will also be utilizing ranked-choice voting, which adds yet another element of uncertainty to the outcome.
Regardless, whoever wins the Republican nomination this Saturday will face an uphill battle in November against Terry McAuliffe, the former governor who is the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic primary, which takes place on June 8.
Republicans have been increasingly shut out of public office at all levels in Virginia as the state has moved politically leftward. Still, some Republicans believe an upset could be in the offing, particularly if their party emerges unified and energized in the aftermath of Saturday’s convention.