If you watch the election returns tonight like you watch a football game, the first quarter of the Mark Warner-Ed Gillespie game might surprise you, when you see Gillespie get on the board with an early touchdown.
Republican-leaning Southwest, Southside and the Shenandoah Valley make up the bulk of the early-reporting districts in statewide voting, and Gillespie, the Republican, is running stronger there than would be expected of any candidate running against Warner, a Democrat who famously has had a deft touch in the redder parts of the Old Dominion in his runs for statewide office.
But Warner isn’t showing that same touch in pre-election polls of the 2014 Senate race. The most recent poll in the race, released late last week by Christopher Newport University, had Gillespie leading Warner 55 percent to 41 percent in Southwest and Southside.
So by, say, 8:30, 8:45 tonight, the returns flashing across the TV screen will probably have Gillespie with an early lead, getting the commentators on cnn and Fox and elsewhere talking about the numbers with terms like “surprising.”
Don’t be surprised. Gillespie is not going to pull the upset. The race did tighten considerably from the early summer, when Warner led Gillespie by as much as 25 points in the polling, with the margin at seven in that CNU Wason Center poll from last week.
But seven points is not anywhere near enough of a close for Gillespie to think that he has a realistic chance tonight, no matter how much the partisans have been taking to social media today to clamor about the pending shock-the-world moment.
Democrats have been making similar noise in regard to the continued chatter about how they’re on the verge of losing their Senate majority, and it is highly likely that they will, with Republicans in the lead in several battleground states, but it’s worth noting that the leads in many of those races are in the one-, two-, three-point range, which is to say, not a lot would have to happen in one or two of those races to turn the narrative of this whole 2014 midterm around.
It’s one thing to see a poll move one or two or three points, and quite another to see it move seven.
More likely is that the CNU Wason Center poll is an outlier, that the other renderings of the race that had it a 10- to 12-point race for Warner are more accurate, and that Warner, by about 9:15 or so, will be the clear winner, and the networks will be safe making a call by the bottom part of the nine o’clock hour.
Not without a moment or two of drama early on, of course.
– Column by Chris Graham