Democrat Ralph Northam has maintained a slight lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s governor’s race, according to a new poll released Monday.
The survey from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University found Northam had the support of 49 percent of likely voters, while Gillespie had 42 percent.
The survey is a weekly tracking poll, the first of four that Wason will release until the Nov. 7 election.
The poll, the latest to find Northam either leading or in dead heat, comes as the White House ramps up efforts to support Gillespie in the nation’s marquee statewide contest this year. Both national parties are watching the contest for a hint of what may come in next year’s midterms.
Vice President Pence plans to campaign with Gillespie at a Saturday rally in Abingdon, Gillespie spokesman Dave Abrams confirmed. It's friendly territory in southwest Virginia, an economically depressed region that has suffered from coal's decline and overwhelmingly voted for Trump in November.
Politico first reported the vice president's plans. Pence had previously been scheduled to headline an August fundraiser for Gillespie in Richmond, but cancelled the appearances, saying he had to attend to White House matters. That event was to take place shortly after the deadly clash in Charlottesville after a white spupremacist rally and as President Trump was being widely criticized by both parties for his handling of Charlottesville.
Pence’s wife, Karen, appeared at a “Women for Ed” fundraiser for Gillespie in Fairfax in September. The Pences have been friends with Gillespie and his wife, Cathy, for years.
Last Thursday, President Trump falsely accused Northam of supporting the violent MS-13 gang and urged Virginians to vote for Gillespie in a nighttime tweet, an announcement that came as a surprise to both Gillespie and White House staff.
Senior administration aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly, said Trump has been following the Virginia race, does not want the Democrats to win the governor’s mansion and is concerned that Republicans may not turn out to vote.
It is unclear if the president will hit the campaign trail for Gillespie in Virginia, where Trump has dismal overall approval ratings.
Former President Barack Obama is expected to campaign in the state for Northam.
The Wason Center poll also found little anxiety about crime and gangs, as Gillespie launched an advertising blitz appealing to fears about MS-13 gang violence.
A series of mailers and television and radio ads invoke the street gang's "Kill, Rape, Control" motto and contend Northam put Virginians at risk by casting a deciding vote against a bill to ban sanctuary cities — an assertion that non-partisan Factcheck.org concluded was misleading because Virginia does not have sanctuary cities and that immigration advocates call a racist appeal to fears of Latino crime.
The poll found roughly six in 10 voters disagreed that crime and gang-violence was a problem where they lived, with Northam and Gillespie supporters largely in agreement.
While more than half of voters didn’t think illegal immigration was a problem in their communities, a third of Gillespie supporters and six percent of Northam supporters did.
“Gillespie’s focus on crime and immigration appear to be attempts to appeal to his base,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center.
Those results echoes the results of a Washington Post-Schar School poll released last week that found about six in 10 voters did not believe illegal immigration was a problem in their part of the state, but that Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to believe they were.
The Wason Center poll also found the other two Democrats running for statewide office have doubled their leads over their GOP rivals since the organization’s last survey two weeks ago.
Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring is now leading his Republican challenger John Adams by 11 points in his bid for a second term. In the race to succeed Northam as lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax leads state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) by eight points.
Pollsters surveyed 616 likely voters between Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 on landline and cell phones. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.