Brat, Gillespie Score Wins in 7th District Straw Poll

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

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.

The Results

GOP Nomination for 7th District House of Representatives
Votes %
Eric Cantor 96 29.09%
Dave Brat 234 70.91%
TOTAL 330 100.00%
GOP Nomination for U.S. Senate
Votes %
Ed Gillespie 163 54.33%
Shak Hill 130 43.33%
Chuck Moss 5 1.67%
Tony DeTora 2 0.67%
TOTAL 300 100.00%


Straw Poll Winners Ed Gillespie and Dave Brat

Straw Poll Winners Ed Gillespie and Dave Brat

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.


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  • Kate Gaziano

    If the Cantor/Brat nomination was determined through a convention, I’d be willing to take more stock in this poll. However, since it’s a state-run primary, I think the sample has to be questioned (as you address) – Cantor’s profound fundraising and name recognition advantage matter much more in a primary. The Gillespie support is encouraging, however, and this sample is a better model for the Roanoke convention.

    • Turbocohen

      More people know Cantor, and that has become his liability. Time to bring him home..

  • Richmond Republican

    I actually think these numbers are very interesting precisely bc of that significant number that paired Gillespie with Brat. There is no way that Gillespie can be viewed as more conservative than Cantor. I think these numbers show the extent of dissatisfaction (within this group) with Eric’s accessibility, neglect of the district, disastrous campaign against Brat, etc. I would also not infer it says much about how the primary will go, but Eric has real work to do to repair his standing with his constituents. Good post.

  • Jim Necci

    Your perception that those of us who were at the Honey Baked Ham ’empty chair’ debate missed your poll is correct. I would like to have taken part, if the ’empty chair’ folks had voted the poll numbers would have been really skewed.

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    I too, was at the Dave Brat vs Cantor Empty Chair Debate w/ about a dozen people in my group and we were all very disappointed to find out we missed getting to vote in the straw poll b/c we are all Brat supporters. We thought/heard it was going to take place after the good ‘ole fashion butt whipping session. Add 12 More to your Brat column 🙂

  • stopamenstybspasss744

    cantor is sold out to the Us chamber of commerce but dave brat is sold out to NASSCOM of india.what is his take on the half a million h1, l1, b1 visas each year through back door. NASSCOm spend 1 billoin on tea parties this year to stop s. 744 as passing s. 744 would kills nasscom business and send back 4 million on these visas and bring back 4 million jobs which pay > 6000 usd per month. DAVE BRAT should first talk of it instead of the amnesty bs.

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