Connolly’s Straw Poll Highlights Shifts in Virginia Governor’s Race

By Brian Carlton

March 18, 2021

Some candidates saw big spikes over last month’s Wason Center poll, while others dropped.

FAIRFAX-If you ask U.S. House Rep. Gerry Connolly, St. Patrick’s Day is “the holiest of holy days.” The proud Irish-American always throws an event for the holiday, where between 1,000 to 1,200 Democrats show up and drink some Guinness, eat corned beef and cast a vote. 

The event involves a straw poll, serving as an early gauge of who Northern Virginia Democrats are supporting in the early months of statewide races. 

“I think in many ways, historically, our straw poll has been often an indicator of ultimate results in both the Democratic primary and the general election,” Connolly said Wednesday.

Despite the pandemic, 2021 was no different, although the event itself shifted to a virtual option. A Zoom call replaced the traditional in-person party, with candidates dialing in to talk with the group. 

Connolly polled 700 Democratic Party members this year on their choice for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. 

RELATED: Most Voters Undecided in Wason Center Poll

Straw Poll Highlights Governor’s Race

  • Terry McAuliffe won with 40% of the vote
  • State Sen. Jennifer McClellan finished 2nd with 30%
  • Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy finished with 20%
  • Del. Lee Carter collected 6% of the vote 
  • Current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax received 4%     

“The man who doesn’t like straw polls may like this one,” Connolly joked. He was referring to McAuliffe, who banned the practice while he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee. 

Before members voted, McAuliffe told the group it wasn’t time to try the same old stuff. 

“We cannot tinker around,” he said. “We’ve got to go big, we’ve got to go bold.” 

Now what do the poll numbers mean? Well, if you compare them to last month’s Wason Center poll, they show a couple of changes. To be clear, the Wason poll involved 1,005 Virginia voters. This one used 700. 

McAuliffe had a slight bump, going from 26% in February to 40% this week. But the major shift comes for McClellan, who finished in that Wason Center poll with 4% of the vote. The fact 10 of her bills passed in the General Assembly’s special February session seems to have resonated with voters. Her bump up to 30% is the largest of any candidate. Carroll Foy also seems to be growing on voters. She went from 4% in February to 20%. 

The surprising drop goes to Fairfax, who finished in Feb. with 12% of the vote. Now he’s down to 4%. Carter’s performance in Tuesday’s forum saw some resonance, as he went from 1% to 6% and out of last place.

Straw Poll Ranks Other Races

So we know who won in the poll for governor, but what about the two other races? The biggest difference came in the lieutenant governor’s race. The February Wason Center poll barely registered any support for candidates, with no one finishing above 2%. That definitely wasn’t the case on Wednesday.

The lieutenant governor’s race:

  • Del. Sam Rasoul won with 33%
  • Del. Elizabeth Guzman came in 2nd with 18%
  • Sean Perryman finished 3rd with 15%
  • Del. Hala Ayala collected 14% of the vote
  • Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan did the same
  • Del. Mark Levine had 8% 
  • Nonprofit lobbyist Xavier Warren brought in 2%
  • Paul Goldman finished with 0.5%

The attorney general’s race:

  • Incumbent Mark Herring won with 75% of the vote
  • Del. Jay Jones finished with 25%

Both Jones and Herring saw bumps from that February performance, where Herring had 42% and Jones finished with just 3%.

The next event in primary season takes place April 6, when the Democratic candidates for governor hold a debate.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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