Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary is going on today, and though undue attention perhaps is getting paid, we may as well go ahead and look at the polling--because, well, it's fun to handicap elections, and with former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe in this one, it's an especially fun race to contemplate, as gubernatorial primaries go.
Two polls released Sunday and Monday showed state Sen. Creigh Deeds making a big break away from fellow state legislative veteran Brian Moran and McAuliffe--though McAuliffe's internal polling shows a tighter race.
McAuliffe, the Democratic fundraising all-star, former front-runner in this race, and longtime Clinton friend had outraised Deeds and Moran combined by $300,000 as of his last filing, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, due in large part (~75 percent) to out-of-state contributions.
He's raised a total of $6.96 million--and that's part of what makes this race fun. Can a big-time campaigner, who has lived for about 17 years in the DC suburb of McLean, VA--which sits inside the beltway--but who has not been active in Virginia state politics, swoop into the Virginia governor's mansion?
How does a world-class political talent like McAuliffe fare against veterans of the state legislature, particularly in a state like Virginia, whose Democratic voters have a conservative streak? And, can anyone compete with $6.96 million?
If current polling is right, the winner will likely be the more conservative Deeds, whose state Senate district includes the college town of Charlottesville (home to UVA) and stretches to the West Virginia border.
Until Sunday, polls had shown a close race, with all three candidates hovering around 30 percent and a good chunk (around 20 percent) of likely voters undecided. In the two most recent polls, Deeds shot up to 40 percent.
McAuliffe's internal numbers show a closer contest; his campaign emailed this to supporters today:
We conducted a poll over the last three nights - with 200 interviews a night. We never base decisions on one night's worth of interviews because the sample is too small. But throughout this campaign our night-by-night numbers have been reliable and have picked up trends such as the recent increase in support for Deeds. I am encouraged that last night's interviews have us tied with Deeds.
Those numbers are closer to what we saw in the previous round of polling, before SurveyUSA and Public Policy Polling reported a Deeds surge. See major polls dating back to January here.
Interestingly enough, SurveyUSA and Public Policy Polling have something in common: they both use automated phone calls, with recorded questions, as opposed to live phone interviewers. Some analysts are skeptical of automated polls--and, in fact, The Washington Post has chosen not to report on automated polls in the VA gubernatorial primary because it questions their accuracy.
But pollster Mark Blumenthal, who writes for National Journal and Pollster.com, notes that automated polls are pretty accurate--especially on simple horserace questions (e.g., who will you vote for?).
The polls last week that showed a closer race had something in common, too: they used live interviewers. A Suffolk University survey released last Thursday used live interviewers, and it had the candidates closer: Deeds at 29 percent, McAuliffe at 26 percent, and Moran at 23 percent. As did a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, also using live interviewers and released on the same day, which showed Deeds at 30 percent, Moran at 27 percent, and McAuliffe at 26 percent.
So is the Deeds surge real? Will Moran render irrelevant all the talk of McAuliffe and Deeds and take it? Whose polling is right?
We'll find out after today.