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State of the race: Big lead for Warner in Senate re-election campaign

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A new VCU poll has U.S. Sen. Mark Warner comfortably in front of Republican challenger Daniel Gade five days out from Nov. 3, wiith Warner at 55 percent, and Gade at 38 percent.

A look at the internals from the VCU poll reveals Warner’s strength statewide. As would be expected, he has big leads in Democratic-rich Northern Virginia (63 percent-30 percent) and Hampton Roads (62 percent-27 percent), but he also has support in the typically red South Central (50 percent-45 percent) and Northwest (46 percent-45 percent), trailing only in the deep red West (Gade leads there 54 percent-40 percent).

For a frame of reference, Warner’s support is consistent with support for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Northern Virginia (Biden leads President Trump 61 percent-27 percent there), Hampton Roads (Biden leads 58 percent-28 percent) and South Central (Biden leads 49 percent-44 percent), but the senator is outpacing Biden in the Northwest (where Trump leads 55 percent-41 percent) and in the West (where Trump leads 62 percent-32 percent).

A possible reason for that differentiation might be evident in a look at how independents are casting their lots.

Warner has a 54 percent-35 percent lead on Gade among independents. Biden leads Trump 47 percent-38 percent among independent voters.

2020 vs. 2014

The 2020 cycle does appear to be trending much better for Warner than his first re-election campaign, back in 2014, but it’s worth looking at that cycle and noting that there are some similarities, at least on the surface.

Despite having strong approval ratings from Virginia voters, Warner ended up defeating Republican nominee Ed Gillespie by a razor-thin 17,727-vote, 0.79-percent margin, after having as much as a 12-point lead on Gillespie in polling in mid-October, and a nine-point lead in the final polling done on the eve of the election.

A key reason to think it will be hard for Gade to storm back in the final days has to do with money. Gade had raised just under $4 million for his campaign as of Oct. 14, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, while Warner had reported just under $13.3 million in campaign money on that date.

Another key reason is early voting. Also per VPAP, more than 2.3 million early votes have already been cast either in person or by mail, with an additional 300,000 mail-in ballots still outstanding.

Another frame of reference point here: there were just under 4 million votes cast in Virginia in the 2016 cycle, so where we are right now is at 57.9 percent of that total, with in-person early voting continuing through Saturday, and mail-in ballots being accepted through Election Day.

Which is to say, a huge chunk of votes are already locked in, meaning there aren’t a lot left out there for the getting, and Gade doesn’t seem to have the resources to be able to change what now seems inevitable.

Story by Chris Graham