Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello are in a dead heat in the race for the 2017 Democratic Party governor nomination.
This according to a new poll from Christopher Newport University, which has Northam, the sitting lieutenant governor, and Perriello, a former Virginia congressman, at 26 percent each among Democratic voters.
Former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie has a commanding lead in the race for the Republican governor nomination. Gillespie is at 38 percent, with Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart a distant second at 11 percent, and Virginia Beach State Sen. Frank Wagner at 10 percent.
“Just a few months ago, nobody expected to be saying that the real action in this primary would be on the Democratic side, but that’s where it is,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport.
“The Democratic primary for governor looks to be a replay in some respects of last year’s presidential primary,” said Kidd, and the poll findings bear him out on that.
The Perriello campaign is doing its part to make the race a replay of the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and that divide is there, for now, anyway, in the base.
Clinton voters favor Northam (34 percent) over Perriello (25 percent), but Sanders voters back Perriello (32 percent) over Northam (21 percent).
Looking to November, Gillespie is basically in a dead heat with both Northam and Perriello. Gillespie leads Northam 40 percent to 39 percent in their head-to-head, and the Gillespie-Perriello race would be a 39 percent-39 percent tie.
“We’re a long way off from the fall election, but we can see some fundamentals taking shape,” Kidd said. “The partisans and the liberals and conservatives are settling into their opposing camps, and the ideological and political middle is in play.”
Ideological moderates are divided fairly evenly, regardless of the Democratic candidate, with a strong third supporting either Northam or Perriello against a strong third for Gillespie. However, Gillespie holds a 10-point lead over either Northam or Perriello among political independents.
“The middle seems evenly split at this point, but they’re not necessarily the battleground,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “The question may be whether the candidates try to gain an edge by persuading those voters or focus instead on mobilizing their base in a turnout election.”