At their monthly meeting last night, the Harrisonburg branch of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party held their second straw poll. As with the previous month, the poll gauged support of candidates for president, senator, and representative. However, a fourth question was introduced; of the two Republican candidates that will be listed on the Virginia ballot, which, if either, do you support.
Thirty ballots were returned, the exact number as last month.
When considering all of the presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich once again emerged victorious with 40% of the vote. With the departure of Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum moved into second place with 33%. Ron Paul improved to 23% while Mitt Romney, the supposed frontrunner, rounded out the pack with 3%.
But how would Tea Partiers respond when their top presidential choices were removed? A few turned in blank ballots while two others wrote in the candidate of his or her choice, which is not officially allowed on the actual ballot. Therefore neither of these two groups was included in the total. Of the majority who did select one of the two, Ron Paul captured 68% of the vote leaving Mitt Romney with the remaining 32%.
What would account for Paul’s success? Obviously the 23% who supported Paul on the first question would do so again on the second. However, as featured speaker of the evening and Shenandoah County activist Suzanne Curran observed, those who favor Gingrich or Santorum ought to support Ron Paul. Given that neither Gingrich nor Santorum will be on the Virginia ballot and Romney is currently leading in the delegate count over Paul, a victory for Paul would prolong the contest and thus increase the chance of a non-Romney candidate emerging victorious.
Moving on to the Senate contest, the newest entrant into the race, Delegate Bob Marshall topped the pack with 43% of the vote. In second, former Governor and Senator George Allen end up with 30%. Tea party activist Jamie Radtke placed third with 13%. E.W. Jackson was fourth with 10% and finishing the pack was a surprise vote for Democratic candidate and former Governor Tim Kaine with 3%. Although listed on the ballot, David McCormick finished with zero votes.
Comparing previous trends, Jackson’s support took a heavy blow. In December, he won the contest with 40% but now that previous vigor has apparently diminished. Allen remained relatively consistent, 30% as compared to 37% previously, as did Radtke who held steady. The biggest surprise has to be the rise of Bob Marshall. In the previous poll, he took 7% as a write-in. Now that he is officially a candidate, does this poll foreshadow that he will claim the title as the conservative alternative to George Allen? Or will Radtke, Jackson, or McCormick be able to wrest control of this block of voters when the primary comes?
In the final contest, challenger Karen Kwiatkowski continued to improve her standing with the tea party as support for current Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte slid further. Kwiatkowski improved to an impressive 62% as compared to 47% the month before while Goodlatte’s favor fell a few percentage points from 43% in December to 38% yesterday.
Certainly the three winners, Paul, Marshall, and Kwiatkowski ought to be pleased with these results. It is difficult to rate Gingrich a winner given that he will be unable to fully capitalize on his Virginia support. However, lingering questions remain. Will these candidates continue to enjoy this kind of success as we march toward primary day? And are these numbers reflective of the tea party movement in the Shenandoah Valley as a whole?
Although it is difficult to answer these queries with such limited data, it is possible that they may not be too far off. For example, Madison Liberty, a student group based on the campus of James Madison University, held a presidential straw poll at JMU yesterday too. With about 100 respondents, Ron Paul finished in first with 46.3% of the vote with Barack Obama in second with 40.2%. Mitt Romney captured a mere 5.2%.
More polling will provide further clarity.