RICHMOND — With less than two months until Election Day, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner maintains a sizable lead over Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, in part with support from conservatives who crossed party lines to back the Democrat, a new poll shows.
According to a survey released Wednesday by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, Warner leads Gillespie 53 percent to 31 percent — a 22-point gap that is nearly unchanged from a poll taken in January. About 11 percent of voters are undecided, and Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis attracts 5 percent of voters, the new poll shows.
Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center, said people whom he termed “Warner conservatives” were sticking with the Democrat in a year when Republicans are trying to capitalize on dissatisfaction with President Obama and Congress to win the Senate.
Despite Gillespie’s refrain that Warner has voted with Obama 97 percent of the time, voters don’t appear to be swayed, according to the poll.
“Mark Warner’s position as an incumbent Democrat in 2014 surely makes him the envy of all of those incumbent Democrats who are in trouble across the country,” Kidd said. “Warner not only has the solid backing of his own partisans but also significant levels of support among Republicans and ideological moderates and conservatives.”
The poll shows that Warner, who was governor from 2002 to 2006, is in a stronger position with Democrats — 91 percent of whom support him — than Gillespie is with Republicans — 80 percent of whom support him.
Voters who identify as ideological moderates are also in Warner’s corner, 60 percent to 21 percent. Even 19 percent of voters who identify as ideological conservatives back Warner, although most of them — 67 percent — support Gillespie.
Gillespie’s approval rating doubled from 10 percent in January to 21 percent now, according to the poll. In June, he handily won the state GOP nomination, yet his disapproval number also rose, from 9 percent to 17 percent. Sixty percent of voters said they still haven’t heard enough about him to form an opinion.
Over the same nine-month span, Warner’s approval slipped from 63 percent to 56 percent, but his disapproval number also dropped, from 26 percent to 22 percent.
Garren Shipley, spokesman for the state Republican Party, said exit polls showed that more Democrats than Republicans turned out to vote in the 2012 presidential race, but he anticipates a lower turnout for Democrats this year, which would bode well for Gillespie.
“In most polls Mark Warner is struggling to break 50 percent,” Shipley said in a statement Tuesday before the new poll was released. “For a candidate with 100% name ID, that’s a huge red flag.”
Voters are generally more confident that Virginia is moving in the right direction as opposed to the wrong direction (42 percent to 38 percent), compared with the country in general (32 percent to 58 percent).
Similarly, they are more likely to approve of how Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is handling his job (47 percent to 27 percent) than of how Obama is handling his (43 percent to 52 percent).
Congress ranks by far the worst on job approval, with just 12 percent of voters saying they approve and 85 percent disapproving.
The poll surveyed 819 registered Virginia voters Sept. 2-7. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.