Local elections are hard to predict, especially in the absence of reliable polling data. That’s why the RVA political class is buzzing over Christopher Newport University‘s new poll on the Richmond mayor’s race.

The big news: former Virginia state representative Joe Morrissey’s “solid” lead. Morrissey is a colorful figure in Richmond politics — he famously won a special election for delegate while serving a jail sentence — but is well-known in RVA and has a core of strong support, especially among African Americans. Morrissey’s history, for good or ill, gives him important name recognition in a crowded race. His lead in the current poll probably says less about him as a candidate and more about the failure of his opponents to break through to the electorate in a big way. Other challengers will need to step up their ground game in a big way if they want to defeat Morrissey, and they only have two months to do it.

A few other things of note from the CNU results:

  • The other big story is former secretary of the commonwealth Levar Stoney’s shockingly low numbers. Despite raising as much money as all the other candidates combined, he’s polling in the single digits, not much better than longshot activist Bobby Junes. Stoney has picked up some high-profile endorsements and will likely earn the support of the city’s Democratic machinery. But as I told Richmond Magazine’s Mark Robinson last month, endorsements are generally useful as signals to other elites, not to voters. Elite support is good, but at some point you need voters to buy your story. It’s possible that the Stoney campaign has been saving money for a big ad blitz; if so, Stoney needs to start getting his message out to voters ASAP. At this point he needs endorsements and donations less than he needs yard signs and committed supporters in each district.
  • Former Venture Richmond director Jack Berry should be encouraged by the poll results; he’s probably the candidate who has come closest to “breaking through” to challenge Morrissey for voter support. (Indeed, his campaign tweeted this week that now it was a “two-person race.”) As long as no candidate wins a majority of votes in five of the city’s nine election districts, the top two candidates go to a runoff. If Berry takes even the No. 2 spot, he can take advantage of Morrissey’s high unfavorables — 44 percent, according to the CNU poll — to build an anti-Joe majority. (This has always been Bruce Tyler’s strategy, but his anemic poll numbers and lack of a niche suggest that he’s a longshot for the second spot.)
  • City Council President Michelle Mosby is suffering from being the insider candidate in an outsider year.  According to the poll, Mosby is in a distant third at 10 percent. That’s not so far behind Berry, but she’s one of the only two candidates (with Morrissey being the other) who has a higher “unfavorable” than “favorable” rating. It’s hard to run on a record of accomplishment in city government when a majority of Richmonders don’t like city government; the poll indicates that 50 percentdisapprove of City Council’s performance. (The other Council member in the race, Jon Baliles, is less well known but has much lower unfaves, most likely because of his opposition to Mayor Dwight Jones’ policies over the past few years.)

Richard J. Meagher blogs at RVApol.com. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.