The Wason Center’s most recent polling data on the state of Virginia politics confirms what we’ve seen since scandals rocked Capitol Square in early February: Virginia Democrats have taken some blows, but still lead — narrowly — the generic ballot for control of the General Assembly.
The Northam/Fairfax/Herring scandals have been a gift to the GOP, but not (yet) enough to overcome the advantage Democrats have on broad policy issues.
That would indicate the November elections will be close affairs, with no repeat of the 2017 wave that nearly swept Democrats to parity in the House.
But there are a few other nuggets worth exploring in the data, including what they have to say about the November elections and beyond.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) reputation has taken a hit. That’s not a surprise. But did anyone really anticipate President Trump would now have a higher job approval rating (44 percent) than Northam (40 percent)?
That took real effort. Yes, there’s some partisan noise in the overall approval numbers, and Northam has been trying to use the numerous institutional tools at a governor’s disposal to make a bit of a comeback.
Still, the Wason Center finds Virginians on the whole aren’t necessarily keen to boot him out of office. Fifty-two percent say Northam should stay on the job (an improvement over his standing in two February polls).
But even here, Northam’s position is weak. Consider the September 2013 approval data on former governor Robert F. Bob McDonnell (R), who was caught in the whirlwind of a genuine scandal.
McDonnell’s approval rating stood at 49 percent, compared with Northam’s 40 percent today. Asked whether McDonnell should resign, 67 percent of Virginians said “no.”
But at least Northam can say he’s in a much better position than Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who faces sexual assault accusations he has emphatically denied.
The Wason Center data show 45 percent of voters believe Fairfax should not resign, while, while 42 percent said he should go. The Wason Center’s Rachel Bitecofer told me, “Fairfax’s numbers essentially show a statistical tie.”
As for Fairfax’s approval numbers: Fairfax was especially hurt among African American voters (9 percent disapproval in December, 18 percent in this survey) and women (15 percent disapproval in December, 29 percent in this survey).
The data seem to suggest that Fairfax’s future statewide political ambitions are over. That’s even more likely when we consider, as The Post’s Laura Vozzella reported, the Wason Center poll was conducted “before ‘CBS This Morning’ aired interviews with Fairfax’s accusers on two consecutive days last week.”
Bitecofer agreed those interviews probably had some effect on Fairfax’s polling numbers.
She also said Republicans will use Fairfax’s ongoing troubles in the November elections.
We’ve already gotten a taste of how they might do so in the recently concluded veto session.
At a news conference, Fairfax said two separate polygraph examinations showed he was telling the truth about not having assaulted Vanessa Tyson or Meredith Watson.
In a separate press event, Republican House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said polygraphs are not admissible in court — a point Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, reiterated.
But Gilbert went further: “’Ted Bundy passed a polygraph,’ [Gilbert] said, referring to the convicted serial killer.”
Tough? You bet. But politics ain’t beanbag, and Gilbert’s shot may foreshadow a bruising general election.
If so, it will be because Democrats gained so much so quickly in the 2017 elections and compounded those gains in 2018.
Northam and Fairfax (and let’s not forget Attorney general Mark R. Herring) put all of it at risk.
Or so the GOP hopes.