By John Celock
The race to be Virginia’s next governor has become a dead heat as the race enters its final weeks.
A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday shows Republican Ed Gillespie leading Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam 48 percent to 47 percent with three percent for Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra. The poll shows the central and eastern parts of Virginia becoming more of a battleground in the race to succeed term limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The poll shows Northam easily leading in heavily Democratic Northern Virginia, while Gillespie leads easily in the heavily Republican western part of the state. The Richmond area remains a battleground while Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, has closed the gap with Northam in eastern Virginia, the Democrat’s home territory.
The poll shows that statewide only 29 percent of voters are making President Donald Trump a factor in their voting. Northam has been making Trump a main issue in the race. At the same time the poll did show that 54 percent of voters in Northern Virginia say that Trump is a factor in how they vote for governor. Northern Virginia is dominated by heavily Democratic Arlington and Alexandria along with increasingly Democratic Fairfax County.
With Gillespie trying to make gang issues a central theme of his campaign, the poll shows that 40 percent of voters favor the Republican on crime issues compared to 24 percent favoring the Democrat.
The Virginia governor’s race has been the most competitive race in the country this year, with Democrats trying to keep control of the statehouse in the increasingly purple state, while the GOP wants to regain the governorship to complement the party’s existing control of the state Legislature. Northam has sought to portray himself as a continuation of McAuliffe’s term, including playing up that he would serve as a check on GOP lawmakers.
Gillespie has also sought to portray himself as a continuation as McAuliffe by continuing the incumbent’s focus on business issues. Gillespie and McAuliffe cut the same profile in the state, with both having been national party leaders before seeking Virginia’s top job.
Northam is also trying to get Virginia to return to its longstanding tradition of electing a governor from the opposite party of the president elected the previous year. The decades long tradition ended in 2013 when McAuliffe was elected a year after the reelection of President Barack Obama.