RICHMOND — GOP strategist Ed Gillespie leads a pack of Republicans running for governor next year, while Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) edges Gillespie in a head-to-head matchup, an early poll finds.
Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who came close to toppling Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) in 2014, gets 24 percent of Republican support, according to a Qunnipiac University poll released Wednesday.
Polling for the survey began before U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) bowed out of the race late last week. The poll found his support at 10 percent. State Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) ad Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, were tied at 4 percent.
The poll found that 57 percent of Republicans are undecided. The party will choose its nominee in a June primary.
By margins ranging from 66 percent to 86 percent, Republicans said they did not know enough about the primary contenders to form an opinion of them.
“Ever since Ed Gillespie came oh-so-close to upsetting U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner two years ago, he has had his eye on the governor’s mansion,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said in a written statement. “He enters this campaign with a solid, but by no means overwhelming, lead for the Republican nomination.”
On the Democratic side, Northam has no competition to succeed term-limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
In a hypothetical general election matchup, Northam beats Gillespie 38 percent to 34 percent. The lieutenant governor’s lead is larger over Stewart (38-29), Wittman (39-30) and Wagner (39-30).
The poll also finds that voters approve of the job McAuliffe is doing, which could benefit Northam’s bid since he has worked closely with the governor. Fifty-two percent approve of McAuliffe’s performance, while 30 percent disapprove.
Opinions of the governor vary sharply by party. Democrats approve of the job he is doing by a huge margin, with 75 percent saying he is doing a good job and 8 percent saying he is not. Independents approve of his performance by a 52-32 percent margin. Among Republicans, 57 percent disapprove and 27 percent approve.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly gets lower marks, with 47 percent of voters approving and 31 percent disapproving — scores that were consistent with voters of all stripes.
The poll, which surveyed 1,098 Virginia voters on landlines and cellphones from Dec. 6 through Dec. 11, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The survey includes 451 Republicans, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.