Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign for Governor of Virginia in 2013 was largely seen as a disaster…but Republican primary voters in the state want him to be their candidate again anyway. 37% say Cuccinelli would be their preferred nominee in 2017 to 16% who pick Eric Cantor, 8% each for Bill Bolling and Ed Gillespie, 7% for Mark Obenshain, and 1% for Pete Snyder.
Cuccinelli is by far the best known and most popular of the people we tested. 72% of primary voters are familiar with him compared to 62% for Cantor, 52% for Gillespie, and 42% for Obenshain. Cuccinelli has a +32 net favorability rating with 52% of GOP voters seeing him favorably to 20% who have a negative opinion. Cuccinelli continues to owe his strength particularly to voters who describe themselves as ‘very conservative’- he has a 67/11 favorability rating with them and 47% want him as their candidate in 2017.
These numbers make it clear that Cantor’s struggles with the Republican base go well beyond his old Congressional District. He has evenly split favorability numbers statewide even among GOP primary voters, with 31% seeing him favorably and 31% unfavorably. And when you look at his numbers with the overall electorate only 20% have a positive opinion of Cantor with 39% holding a negative view of him.
On the Democratic side both of the most likely contenders for 2017 are relatively unknown. Attorney General Mark Herring has 46% name recognition with Democratic primary voters and for Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam it’s 37%. Those numbers are a good reality check on how much attention voters pay to down ballot offices. Herring starts out with a substantial lead over Northam for the nomination, 33% to 9%. But at 58%, a strong majority of voters are undecided.
The hypothetical general election match ups we tested for 2017 all start out close. The match up between the preferred nominee on each side, Cuccinelli and Herring, starts out as an exact tie at 38% each. Herring also ties Obenshain at 34, leads Cantor 36/33, and trails Gillespie 38/34. Northam trails all the Republicans but by generally tight margins- 2 points to Cantor and Cuccinelli at 35/33 and 37/35 respectively, 4 to Obenshain at 36/32, and 7 to Gillespie at 37/30.
On average Gillespie is the strongest Republican, leading by an average of 5.5 points. Obenshain leads by an average of 2 points, Cuccinelli by 1, and Cantor does the worst trailing by an average of half a point. On the Democrat side Herring is stronger, averaging about a tie while Northam is on average down by about 4 points to the Republican field.
How predictive is any of this? In the summer of 2011 we found Cuccinelli leading McAuliffe by 3 points. 2 years later McAuliffe ended up beating Cuccinelli by 3 points. So really all you can take from it for now is that it’s close.
Full results here