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Polling Shows Tight 2021 Gubernatorial Races in VA & NJ

September 3, 2021

This article originally appeared on BIPAC's blog. Written by BIPAC Political Analyst Jim Ellis.

Key Takeaways

  • AL-Sen: Rep. Mo Brooks (R) Way Up in GOP Primary Poll   
  • NH-Sen: Gov. Chris Sununu (R) Tops Sen. Maggie Hassan (D);   
  • NH-1: Ex-Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) Wife Considering House Race    
  • NY-24: Rep. John Katko (R) Draws New Dem Opponent    
  • KS-Gov: Ex-Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) Withdraws for Health Reason   
  • NJ-Gov: New Poll Now Forecasting Tight Race
  • OR-Gov: State House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) Declares for Gov


Alabama: Last week, the Cygnal polling firm released its results for the Alabama Governor’s race, and now their Yellowhammer State Senate numbers are public. The poll (8/17-18; 600 AL likely Republican primary voters; live interview, interactive voice response system, and text) finds US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) opening with a healthy 41-18-3-2% GOP primary lead over former Alabama Business Council president and CEO Katie Britt, businesswoman Jessica Taylor, and ex-US Ambassador Lynda Blanchard, respectively. 

Georgia: For the second time, reports are surfacing that Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker threatened gun violence against a significant other. In this case, however, the accuser is speaking posthumously. Myka Dean made the allegations against the former football star in 2012 in a police report. Though she passed away in 2019, the police report has now appeared publicly just after Mr. Walker filed a Senate campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission.

New Hampshire: A new St. Anselm College poll from its New Hampshire Institute of Politics finds Gov. Chris Sununu (R) enjoying his largest early polling lead over Sen. Maggie Hassan (D). According to St. Anselm’s results (8/24-26; 1,855 NH registered voters; online; weighted responses), Gov. Sununu would hold a 49-41% lead over Sen. Hassan. Mr. Sununu carries a 64:34% positive to negative job approval ratio, while Sen. Hassan is upside down at 44:47%, but with a concerning 34% strong disapproval rating. 

Oregon: Despite a very low probability of ousting Sen. Ron Wyden (D) next year as he seeks a fifth full term, a third Republican has announced his candidacy. Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer is now a declared candidate joining frequent statewide campaigner Jo Rae Perkins, and Prineville Mayor Jason Beebe. Mr. Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is a lock for re-election.


AZ-9: Pastor and former NFL football player Jerone Davison (R) yesterday announced his congressional candidacy hoping to oppose two-term Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Phoenix), the former Phoenix Mayor.  Rev. Davison becomes the tenth Republican to announce, a surprising number in what is currently a solid Democratic seat (Biden ’20: 61-37; Stanton ’20: 62-38%). Rumors abounded early that Rep. Stanton might opt for a statewide race, particularly the open Attorney General’s position, but the Congressman has not made any moves to suggest he will run for anything but re-election. 

CA-21: The candidate field attempting to deny California Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) re-election continues to grow. Last week, five-term state Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) declared his candidacy. As the weekend began, Republican Adam Medeiros, a member of the King County School Board, also publicly announced his intention to become a congressional candidate. 

The total field of Valadao opponents now reaches seven, but under the California top two jungle primary qualifying system, the chances of a Republican other than the GOP incumbent advancing into the general election are remote at best. The most likely general election pairing is Mr. Valadao defending his seat against Assemblyman Salas.

IL-14: Last week a story appeared suggesting that Illinois Democratic leaders are planning to collapse Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s (R-Channahon) seat in redistricting to help feed retiring Congresswoman Cheri Bustos’ (D-Moline) and second-term US Rep. Lauren Underwood’s (D-Naperville) districts with more Democrats. 

Ms. Underwood defeated state Senator and frequent candidate Jim Oberweis (R) by only a 51-49% margin in a seat that previously elected Republicans on a consistent basis. The redistricting move hasn’t deterred one potential 2022 Underwood challenger, however. Retired Army officer Mike Pierce (R) announced this week that he will oppose Rep. Underwood in the new 14th. 

Though Democratic map drawers want to make both the Bustos and Underwood’s seats more favorable to their party, doing so might be more difficult than meets the eye. Mr. Kinzinger’s district backed former President Trump by 17 percentage point margins in both 2016 and 2020. Therefore, if they want to use the Kinzinger Democrats to strengthen the two districts, one to the west and the other east, they will also free an even larger number of Republicans going into other CDs, thus potentially making another neighboring Democratic district weaker. 

NH-1: Journalist Gail Huff Brown (R), wife of former US Senator (MA) and Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown (R), is reportedly preparing a campaign for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, the ultra-competitive CD that is expected to lean more Republican post redistricting. Already in the GOP race is 2020 nominee Matt Mowers, who held incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) to a 51-46% victory, state Rep. Tim Baxter (R-Portsmouth), and former Trump White House aide Karoline Leavitt. 

Since 2004, the 1st District has re-elected its incumbent only twice, making it the most competitive congressional district in the country. Now that Republicans have full control of the redistricting process, it is apparent they plan to make the coastal 1st District more Republican in exchange for drawing Rep. Annie Kuster’s (D-Hopkinton/Concord) 2nd District more Democratic. Rumors already abound that Rep. Pappas may opt for a Governor’s run if incumbent Chris Sununu declares for the Senate and the congressional district is not to his liking. 

NY-19: Republican Kyle Van de Water, saying he “can no longer give 110% effort to this endeavor,” announced yesterday that he won’t return for a re-match with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-Rhinebeck). His effort was not particularly strong in 2020, however, as he spent just over $118,000 in his campaign, losing 51-41%. Conversely, Rep. Delgado spent just under $3 million to secure re-election. 

NY-24: US Intelligence Analyst and Iraq War veteran Francis Conole, who lost the 2020 Democratic primary to previous nominee Dana Balter by almost a 2:1 margin, announced that he will return for the 2022 campaign with the goal of opposing four-term Rep. John Katko (R-Syracuse) in the general election. Currently, Mr. Conole faces financial management consultant and retired Army officer Steve Holden in the Democratic primary. Ms. Balter has already said she will not return for a third run. Rep. Katko has one Republican primary opponent, parental rights advocate John Murtari. 


California: Patrick Ruffini, the co-founder of the Echelon Insights survey research firm, explains some of the latest polling that finds Gov. Gavin Newsom in a close recall race in a state that overwhelmingly favors his party. Mr. Ruffini comments that the racial segmentation is at the heart of Newsom’s problem. While white voters favor the recall 51-49%, Hispanics are split 50-50%, and even 35% of blacks support his removal. Since Gov. Newsom is not getting the typical Democratic support from the minority coalitions, his status in relation to the September 14th recall election becomes tenuous.

The most recent polling places Gov. Newsom in much better position, however. Survey USA, which earlier reported 51% favoring the recall, now sees a 51-43% majority opting to keep Mr. Newsom in office. The poll was conducted over the 8/26-28 period of 1,250 California adults, 1,046 of whom were registered to vote. The ballot test reflects the result from those 816 sampled voters who said they have voted or are likely to cast a ballot in the September 14th recall election. The poll was conducted online. 

The Trafalgar Group also tested the California electorate (8/26-28; 515 CA likely voters; combination live interview, interactive voice response, text, and email) within the same time period and sees a similar result to Survey USA’s. Trafalgar projects a 52-44% split in favor of Gov. Newsom remaining in office. In both polls, conservative commentator Larry Elder (R) continues to lead the replacement election, but those votes become moot if Newsom survives the recall question.

Kansas: Former Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), a physician, announced he is withdrawing from the 2022 Governor’s race because he was just recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. At this point, the Republican nomination appears to be Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s to lose. 

A highly competitive race was forecast between the two men, but without Mr. Colyer’s candidacy, AG Schmidt must be viewed as the prohibitive nomination favorite. This analysis remains unless a new strong opponent emerges. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) is seeking re-election.  A Kelly-Schmidt general election will likely be forecast as a toss-up.

Minnesota: Four-term state Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), who hails from the northern outer Minneapolis suburbs, as expected announced late this week that she will enter the Republican gubernatorial primary with the goal of challenging Gov. Tim Walz (D) next year. In the GOP race are former state Sen. Scott Jensen and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, along with physician Neil Shah.  Gov. Walz is favored for re-election.

New Jersey: The Fabrizio Lee polling firm, conducting a statewide New Jersey survey for the Club for Growth organization (8/24-29; 600 NJ likely 2021 election voters; live interview), finds former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R) pulling to within a 43-41% margin of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in the first research study that forecasts a close 2021 Garden State gubernatorial campaign. 

The polling identifies the lower propensity voter favoring Ciattarelli to a higher degree, suggesting that the ballot test slightly understates Gov. Murphy’s current standing. Still, assuming this late August poll is within the accuracy realm, the results project that the Murphy-Ciattarelli gubernatorial contest may finish much closer than originally forecast. New Jersey leads the nation in per capita COVID deaths, despite major shutdowns during the first wave, which is becoming a strong campaign issue for the challenger. This race will soon be drawing more national political attention.

Oregon: In what is one of the slower moving open seat statewide races in the country, the Democrats finally have a contested primary in an open seat race for a major position their party controls. Late this week, state House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) announced that she will run for Governor, attempting to succeed term-limited Democratic incumbent Kate Brown. The only other announced Democratic candidate is Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla. The leading Republican appears to be 2016 gubernatorial nominee Bud Pierce, who lost to Gov. Brown, 51-43%.

Virginia: Monmouth University’s (8/24-29; 802 VA registered voters; live interview) new Virginia gubernatorial survey finds the ballot test leaning toward Democratic former Governor McAuliffe, 47-42%, consistent with other polling. The favorability indexes for both candidates are relatively equivalent but lean slightly toward Mr. Youngkin, 39:35% favorable to unfavorable for McAuliffe and 37:27% for the Republican.

The Trafalgar Group’s poll (8/26-29; 1,074 VA likely voters; combination live interview, interactive voice response system, text, and email) finds a virtual tie, with Mr. McAuliffe having only a margin of 46.6 – 43.3%. The FiveThirtyEight statistical organization rates both pollsters in the A category, with Monmouth receiving an A grade and Trafalgar an A-.

Wisconsin: Rebecca Kleefisch (R), who served for eight years as Lt. Governor when ex-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was in office, declared her gubernatorial candidacy to challenge the man who defeated her political mentor, incumbent Gov. Tony Evers (D). The move had been expected and she became the first Republican to officially become a gubernatorial candidate. A day after her announcement, however, state Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview/Green Bay) declared that he, too, will compete in the Republican primary for the opportunity to challenge incumbent Gov. Evers. The Wisconsin primary is scheduled for August 9, 2022. This contest has toss-up general election potential.