Though my last article positioned Abigail Spanberger as the favorite to win Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, I now see the race as a pure toss-up following the New York Times/Siena poll that came out last week. Though there are a few oddities–such as Rep. Brat winning 18-29-year-olds and Asian-American voters, possibly due to the very low response rates among the first group and small sample size of the latter, Siena is still rated as an A pollster by FiveThirtyEight, so both sides need to take this poll seriously, especially the Spanberger campaign.
Brat leads by just four percent in this poll, which is just about what GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie won the 7th District by in the 2017 primary. This poll is about what I’d give Dave Brat in his best case scenario. I do not think it is likely that Brat will do exceptionally better than Gillespie did last year; maybe he does a few tenths of a percent better. This poll is definitely good news for Brat, who is facing his toughest re-election yet.
Some of my pundit colleagues have argued, as early as mid-August, that Brat is slightly favored to win re-election. I understand why they believe he might be, but I think the race is a dead heat; the combination of a strong challenger in Abigail Spanberger and one of the worst GOP candidates in recent history at the top of the ticket, Corey Stewart, has made it exceptionally difficult for me to say Brat is the favorite right now.
If I were to put a range for the margin of victory in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District though, I would say it goes from Brat +4 to Spanberger +3. Spanberger’s campaign will have to make sure they do well with moderate Republicans who plan on voting for Kaine but may split their ticket for Brat, especially those moderate Republicans who liked Eric Cantor and are still mad about his loss to Brat in 2014. I am not downplaying the importance of Spanberger having to turn out her base though. She will need to turn out African-American voters in areas like Brookland, Fairfield, and the Southside of Richmond, as well as improving on Northam’s suburban gains last year by winning heavily among women voters; in the NYT poll she leads women by 13 points, but that’s probably not enough to win. There’s plenty of time for her to widen the gap, but even if she does, her campaign should still invest more time in areas they barely won during the primary, like southside Richmond and Fairfield, to make sure they turn out enough voters to find a path to victory.
It will be interesting to see how the race in Virginia’s 7th develops. Had you told me a month ago that the 2nd Congressional District would be a better pickup opportunity for Democrats than the 7th (I currently rate VA-02 as Lean D; Luria wins by 5-10 percent), I would’ve rolled my eyes. The status in highly competitive races like these can change dramatically over a short period of time, so you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be writing more pieces on Virginia’s 7th before election day.