U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner leads Republican challenger Ed Gillespie by seven points going into Election Day, according to a new poll that finds the gap between the two candidates narrowing.
Likely voters prefer Warner (D) to Gillespie by a 51 to 44 margin in the survey, conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. Only two percent of voters choose Libertarian Robert Sarvis.
Warner has not lost support since the center’s last poll on Oct. 7, but Gillespie’s share of the electorate has grown five points while the pool of Sarvis voters and undecideds has shrunk.
Polls have consistently shown a more competitive race as the election nears, and this one finds Gillespie closer to Warner than any previous survey has.
Still, Warner has a solid lead that would be hard for Gillespie to surmount in the final few days of the race. He remains more popular with Democrats than Gillespie is with Republicans, and he wins a majority of Independents and self-described moderates as well.
“The Warner advantages ... that he was in a strong position with his own party, had a solid toe-hold with Republicans, and had a good position amongst ideological moderates – seem to have held from start to finish,” said Wason Center director Quentin Kidd.
Warner leads Gillespie in every part of the state but Southside and the southwest, where the Republican leads 55 to 41. Warner prides himself on his strong connections in and commitment to this conservative territory, but according to the Wason Center he has lost ground there throughout the race.
The senator’s superior financial resources appear to have helped him as both campaigns turned negative. Only 45 percent of voters had heard “some” or “a lot” about Warner’s discussion of a possible job for a state senator’s daughter. By contrast, 62 percent of voters had heard “some” or “a lot” about Gillespie’s lobbying for Enron and running a firm that once represented a dictatorial foreign government. In both cases, the vast majority of voters said those issues, both featured in campaign ads, had no effect on their choice.
“Senator Warner has consistently polled at or above 50 percent in a three way race,” said Warner spokesman David Turner. “He continues to have support from Democrats, Independents, and Republicans in all corners of the Commonwealth.”
Gillespie has not benefited from outside money or received much attention from national Republicans as more competitive races have emerged across the country. However, the national climate is dire for Democrats, who many prognosticators expect will lose control of the Senate. While Warner’s past as a popular governor and willingness to buck his party energy exploration and entitlement reform will likely help him avoid the fate many of his colleagues face, he has not emerged entirely unscathed.
This poll was conducted from Oct. 23-29, with 815 interviews of registered Virginia voters of which 634 are considered likely voters. The margin of error for the entire poll is 3.4 percent; for the likely voter numbers it is 3.9 percent.