The Bull Elephant’s Straw Poll of delegates to the 7th District GOP Convention Saturday showed a large and unexpected lead by Dave Brat over Eric Cantor, and Shak Hill as a continuing but distant threat to frontrunner Ed Gillespie.
At Saturday’s convention of 7th District Republicans to nominate a new chairman, The Bull Elephant ran an informal poll of delegates for their preferences on who the nominee should be for the 7th District House seat currently occupied by Eric Cantor, and the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Mark Warner. The 7th District nomination will be decided by a state-run open primary on June 10. The Senate nomination will be made by the Republican State Convention in Roanoke on June 7.
A blow-by-blow account of the Saturday’s convention in Short Pump can be found here; observations and analysis here; and Jamie Radtke’s nominating speech for winning candidate Fred Gruber here.
It must be emphasized that this is a non-scientific poll, and the poll is only of a subset (a little less than a third) of convention delegates that attended the 7th District Convention on Saturday. See the bottom of this post for a description of the process used to conduct the poll, along with some additional caveats and qualifers about the results.
|GOP Nomination for 7th District House of Representatives|
|GOP Nomination for U.S. Senate|
The significance of the results can be seen in looking at how voters in one race voted in the other race, which we observed while counting the votes, and which you can infer from the results.
The most common vote pairing was, unsurprisingly, between those who voted for both Brat and Hill. If you support Shak Hill, then Dave Brat is almost definitely your candidate for Congress; of all voters, only two backed both Cantor and Hill—the least common vote pairing. The second most common vote pair was Cantor and Gillespie. Again, this is conventional wisdom; supporters of the so-called “establishment” candidate in one race seem naturally inclined to support the same kind of candidate in the other race.
Where it gets interesting is in the third most common pairing: Brat supporters who backed Gillespie. There were a lot of voters like this, as can be seen in the wide percentage differences between Gillespie’s numbers and Cantor’s. What this says is very important to both contests. For Cantor, it means that his opposition isn’t just among fire-breathing Tea Party-types, but also among a significant portion of the GOP base in the 7th who prefer the “mainstream” candidate for Senate.
On the 7th District race, let’s be clear that this was a non-scientific poll, and that the poll did not include all delegates. Further, it is a poll of delegates to a convention, not of primary voters, so it is almost certainly not representative of the numbers we’ll see when the state-run polls close on June 10. But however you slice it, the lack of enthusiasm for Cantor among these core GOP activists is simply shocking.
For the Senate race, this particular sampling is likely much closer in composition to what we will see in Roanoke on June 7. While, as I wrote Saturday, the shocking upset of incumbent 7th District Chairman Linwood Cobb should serve as a warning sign to the Ed Gillespie campaign, these results tend to suggest some combination of the following conclusions: (a) Gillespie has not been lumped in with the existing GOP power structure by many of those delegates who are upset by it; (b) Gillespie enjoys some support among the Tea Party wing of the GOP; (c) some conservatives who might otherwise back Shak Hill nonetheless currently back Gillespie for some reason (e.g., electability); and (d) while Shak Hill enjoys a natural base of support among the most conservative elements of the base (in what is probably the most “establishment”-leaning district), the 11-point deficit among Saturday’s crowd suggests he still has work to do to reach and/or persuade other parts of the GOP coalition.
About the Straw Poll – Caveats and Qualifiers
The poll was open to credentialed 7th District delegates only. We set up in the lobby of Hilton at about 8:30 AM, and closed the poll just before proceedings convened at 10:00 AM. Balloting was done on pre-printed blue paper ballots listing the candidates for both races. Two write-in votes for Senate were not counted, as they are not eligible for the nomination. We began the voting by marking credentials of every person who voted, but were cautioned by convention officials not to tamper with credentials. Henceforth, voting was on the honor system and we expected no one to try to vote twice, and believe that no one did, as ballots were not just laying around, but had to be requested from one of the volunteers who could have recognized them as having previously voted.
A little fewer than a third of the delegates took part in the poll. In contrast to party-run straw polls, delegates were not handed ballots with their check-in packets, so would have had to stop by where we had set up. Some delegates didn’t care to take the time, while others appeared entirely unfamiliar with the concept of a straw poll. Many delegates, I am sure, did not even notice us among the tightly packed crowd (we were located in the lobby adjacent to where Rep. Cantor was greeting and speaking with delegates who had attended his breakfast). Our location probably disadvantaged Brat, as delegates arriving from the “empty chair” debate across the street might not have seen us if they entered the hotel and proceeded directly to certain counties’ registration tables and then on to the convention ballroom. Many of the 335 people casting ballots voted for only one race—primarily the House race, with which 7th District delegates were naturally more familiar.
This poll is entirely unscientific, and only represents the sample of 7th District delegates who saw the Straw Poll was underway and chose to participate. So, take it how you will.