Two months from Election Day, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released a poll charting Richmond’s eight mayoral candidates. You can read the full report here. Below are our five takeaways.
1. He is who we thought he was. Joe Morrissey is leading the field of eight candidates, confirming what many who have followed the race have suspected or said: Although a polarizing figure, he is a fierce campaigner with a loyal base in certain parts of the city that, in a crowded field, could be enough to pull five districts. His long, storied career in the region equals high name recognition, a huge advantage in a field of relative newcomers and unknowns. This poll shows these presumptions were true and that, if the election were held today, he’d probably win. To all those aghast at his criminal record and personal exploits, you now know: His voters do not care. Twenty-eight percent is not a lot, but it may be enough to seal it.
2. The race for second. Remember: If no candidate wins five districts, the top two vote getters citywide go to a runoff. Former Venture Richmond executive Jack Berry is trailing Morrissey with 16 percent of the vote citywide. Berry has a slight cushion on the Richmond City Council incumbents, Michelle Mosby (10 percent) and Jon Baliles (9 percent). Berry leads in the 1st (Baliles’ home district), 2nd and the 4th. He’s also best positioned to chip into Morrissey’s lead in the 3rd, which is crucial to blocking the front-runner from winning the election outright. Aside from Stoney, he has far more cash on hand than any of his opponents and is tied for the lowest unfavorable rating in the field (12 percent). His campaign released a statement this morning calling it a “two-person race.” Is he right?
3. Who can capture the undecideds? A quarter of the 600 people surveyed said they had not made up their minds. If the figure is a true representation of the city as a whole, that’s a lot of voters up for grabs. And while many reside in districts where Morrissey is running strong, there’s a chance for the handful of candidates in the race for second to run up their margins in a bid for a runoff. Mosby is leading in her home district (the 9th) and polling well in the 1st, the 6th and the 8th. Money may be her biggest obstacle moving forward. Baliles is tied with Berry for the lowest unfavorable rating (12 percent), but leads no districts and is running up against the top two candidates in the districts in which he polls well. Both the council candidates will likely have to answer for the high disapproval rating of the body on which they serve. Half of the poll’s respondents do not think council is doing a good job.
4. Levar Stoney is way behind. The candidate who has raised the most money is running fifth, with 7 percent of the vote citywide. The former secretary of the commonwealth leads no districts and is really only in striking distance in the 4th (the margins of error in the individual districts are between 13 and 16 percent). This is a real sentence that appears in the report: "Majorities of voters say they do not know Levar Stoney, Bruce Tyler, Bobby Junes and Lawrence Williams well enough to rate them." If you’re Stoney, that’s not the half of the field with whom you want to be grouped. That 63 percent of voters cannot register an opinion about you two months from the election is, uh, troubling, even if you have a boatload of cash on deck. What, if any, fallout comes of this? Does the Democratic donation tap run dry? Does the establishment back away and support someone else? Does Stoney sacrifice himself for the #NeverJoe crowd and *gasp* drop out?! Probably not. His campaign's spokesman, Matt Corridoni, is already downplaying the results: "The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day ... " he tweeted.
5. There's no way 90 percent of voters will turn out. Kudos to Rich Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, for pointing this out on Twitter. Nine out of 10 respondents said they plan to vote in the election. That would be unprecedented turnout, even in a presidential election year. In 2008, when the last competitive mayoral race was held, more than 87,000 people cast a ballot out of nearly 123,000 registered voters in the city, according to records made available through the Virginia Department of Elections. That’s about 71.5 percent turnout. Who does the inflated poll figure hurt? Meagher hypothesizes Morrissey.