CNU finds “Trump effect” is alive in race for Virginia governor

Ed Gillespie, left, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, right, are vying to become Virginia's next governor in the 2017 election. (WAVY Photos).

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Christopher Newport University has  found the Trump effect is alive in the race for Virginia’s next Governor.

CNU notes the two are similar candidates — moderate in temperament and tone running professional and well-financed campaigns with lots of ads on TV.

So why is Ed Gillespie behind 50 to 43 percent? Just ask Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director for CNU’s Wason Center for Public Policy.

“Donald Trump is definitely effecting Ed’s campaign.”

Bitecofer is sure this is in a negative way. The Republican president may not be on the ballot for governor, but the new CNU poll shows he is very much a part of the campaign.

“The number one important thing for the Gillespie campaign to know is that they are losing independent voters,” says Dr. Bitecofer. CNU found Trump has had a negative effect on independent voters, and that is impacting Gillespie’s numbers.

Independent Voters:

Northam — 48 percent

Gillespie — 35

Northam has an edge with moderates by an even greater margin:

Northam — 59 percent

Gillespie — 34 percent

“So why is it that Gillespie is having such a hard time? You have to look at Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s approval ratings from our survey is between 30 and 33 percent…that is astounding, and there is nothing we can compare that too in recent history,” Bitecofer said.

Northam leads voter rich Northern Virginia 53 to 40 percent, and voters there wanted to send a message to both candidates.  Bitecofer said, “Democrats wanted to send a message of criticism to Donald Trump, and republicans wanted to send a message of support.”

Northam is ahead in Richmond and Central Virginia 51 to 42 percent, while Gillespie leads ahead in Southwest VA  51 to 43 percent.

Hampton Roads had some real interesting numbers.

Northam is a long-time resident and elected public official from Hampton Roads, yet he only leads Gillespie 47 to 43 percent — which is barely outside the margin of error. Those are excellent numbers for Gillespie.

“In Hampton Roads those who allegedly know him the best, don’t necessarily love him the best. Northam is soft in his home base of Hampton Roads,” said Pete Snyder, the campaign chairman of Gillespie for Governor.

Countering that is David Turner who is Communications Director Northam for Governor. “We don’t anticipate it to be that close on election day. Voters are still tuning in by election day, so you will see a larger lead for Ralph Northam,” Snyder said.

The Trump effect raises the question will Gillespie be seen side-by-side campaigning with the president.

“We don’t reveal political strategies to reporters or anyone else. We will see in the coming days,” Snyder said. Trump supporters would argue he better be invited to campaign with Gillespie to solidify the Trump base.

The poll also found Democrats winning the lieutenant governor and attorney general races.