The number one question I get around the state from Democrats is this: "Who is going to win the nomination for Lt. Governor and Attorney General". The candidates for Lt. Governor are Senator Ralph Northam and Aneesh Chopra, and the candidate for Attorney General are Senator Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax. I'm now finally ready to answer this- by calling both races an early "tossup".
One good early marker are straw polls where all the candidates are participating. Last night in Mt. Vernon the first straw polls of 2013 occurred at their annual Marti Gras Party. Committee members reported to me that "all four" candidates called them this week seeking their support in the straw poll. More importantly than who the activists are supporting is who the candidates can bring to a straw poll from outside the same old crew.
Here were the results from Mt. Vernon (southern Fairfax County):
Aneesh Chopra 148
Ralph Northam 61
Mark Herring 128
Justin Fairfax 108
What does this tell us? A few things. First- none of the candidates have enough support to even get 200 people to show up and vote for them on a Saturday night in a location within 30 minutes of about 75% of the NoVA population. That tells me *everyone* is really weak right now with very little organization behind them. Trying to call favorites in a race isn't possible until someone starts showing real organizational muscle and none of these candidates have that yet.
Most of the votes cast were from local activists and political staffers. When I interviewed the people attending from outside of Mt. Vernon- it was indicated to me that much of the limited support these candidates have is coming from friends of their paid staff. I've been to this event for all 5 years it has been going on- and appearing for the first time were the "walking dead" of political staffers- people who had got real jobs in the last few years, but were asked to attend as a "favor" from a friend working for one of the candidates.
To all four of the candidates I would say this- your staffers friends do not count as a political organization!
The only candidate I saw bringing in numerous new people who were not political staffers was Justin Fairfax, who had about 50 friends who I've never seen at political events before show up to vote for him. Again, that is not an organization- it's just some friends- but Fairfax should at least get credit for showing he has some people outside of the usual suspects willing to show up and support his campaign. I thought him fighting Mark Herring to a close finish in a county that Herring has been representing since 2005 was a big warning signal for anyone who thinks Herring will walk into this nomination.
In terms of Northam and Chopra- we didn't learn much. It's obvious that Hampton Roads will strongly support Northam, so Chopra *must* win Northern Virginia- and with serious margin. The straw poll last night showed real weakness in Northam's campaign (less than 100 votes after working the phones- seriously???) That indicates the door is wide open for Chopra to get the nomination if he can find the right voters and get them to vote. In June though, the election won't be won with some former political hacks doing favors for friends in a straw poll.
If the election doors opened tomorrow, Mark Herring and Ralph Northam would both win the nominations from good turnout and support in Loudoun (Herring) and Norfolk and the Eastern Shore (Northam). But there is a lot of Virginia outside of those areas, and I'm getting the feeling that Chopra and Fairfax are getting a little more early traction right now. But no candidate yet has shown enough organization or support to be worthy of being called a "frontrunner".