Hung Cao Wins 10th District Nomination – Full Results and Analysis

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Polls opened in 11 precincts in Virginia’s newly drawn 10th district on Saturday, May 21, as Republicans took part in a party-organized poll (also known as the “firehouse primary”) to choose the candidate who would face Rep. Jennifer Wexton in November. With 11 candidates running, the process used ranked voting to ensure that one candidate would receive majority support. The turnout was 15,174 voters.

Late at night, after 9 rounds of counting (and recounting the voters’ ranked preferences of the dropped candidates), Hung Cao emerged with a strong victory.

Round 1:

Hung Cao: 42.0%
Jeanine Lawson: 28.9%
Brandon Michon: 10.2%
Mike Clancy: 4.8%
Caleb Max: 4.1%
John Henley: 4.0%
David Beckwith: 2.0%
Therese Coates Ellis: 1.7%
John Beatty: 1.5%
Jeff Mayugh: 0.4%
Brooke Taylor: 0.4%

After each round, the lowest-ranked candidate dropped out, and everyone who had Taylor as their first choice then had their second-choice votes (if any) given to other candidates. If their second choice was later dropped, they would move on to their third choice, and so on.

2nd round:
(redistributing Taylor voters)

Cao: 42.1% (+0.1%)
Lawson: 29.0% (+0.1%)
Michon: 10.3% (+0.1%)
Clancy: 4.8% (-)
Max: 4.1% (-)
Henley: 4.1% (+0.1%)
Beckwith: 2.0% (-)
Ellis: 1.7% (-)
beaty: 1.5% (-)
Mayugh: 0.4% (-)

Please note: the changes reflected here represent percentages, to the nearest 10th decimal place. Candidates may have received votes without increasing a tenth of a percentage; a candidate may also have garnered more votes than another candidate, but not moved (for example, if they went from 4.76% to 4.83%, they would still be reported as 4.8%).

Round 3:
(redistributing Mayhugh voters)

Cao: 42.3% (+0.2%)
Lawson: 29.0% (-)
Michon: 10.3% (-)
Clancy: 4.8% (-)
Max: 4.1% (-)
Henley: 4.1% (-)
Beckwith: 2.1% (+0.1%)
Ellis: 1.8% (+0.1%)
beaty: 1.6% (+0.1%)

Round 4:
(redistributing Beatty voters)

Cao: 42.8% (+0.5%)
Lawson: 29.3% (+0.3%)
Michon: 10.5% (+0.2%)
Clancy: 4.9% (+0.1%)
Max: 4.3% (+0.2%)
Henley: 4.2% (+0.1%)
Beckwith: 2.2% (+0.1%)
Ellis: 1.9% (+0.1%)

Round 5:
(redistributing Ellis voters)

Cao: 43.5% (+0.7%)
Lawson: 29.8% (+0.5%)
Michon: 10.7% (+0.2%)
Clancy: 5.1% (+0.2%)
Max: 4.5% (+0.2%)
Henley: 4.3% (+0.1%)
Beckwith: 2.2% (-)

Round 6:
(redistributing Beckwith voters)

Cao: 44.3% (+0.8%)
Lawson: 30.3% (+0.5%)
Michon: 10.9% (+0.2%)
Clancy: 5.3% (+0.2%)
Max: 4.7% (+0.2%)
Henley: 4.5% (+0.2%)

Round 7:
(redistributing Henley voters)

Cao: 46.6% (+2.1%)
Lawson: 31.2% (+0.9%)
Michon: 11.5% (+0.6%)
Clancy: 5.8% (+0.5%)
Max: 4.8% (+0.1%)

Round 8:
(redistributing Max voters)

Cao: 48.7% (+2.1%)
Lawson: 32.3% (+1.1%)
Michon: 12.5% (+1.0%)
Clancy: 6.6% (+0.8%)

Round 9:
(Clancy voter redistribution)

Cao: 52.2% (+3.5%)
Lawson: 33.8% (+1.5%)
Michon: 13.9% (+1.4%)

Hung Cao won!

Neighborhood analysis:

Cao will face Wexton in a district Joe Biden won by double figures but in which Glenn Youngkin closed the gap to Terry McAuliffe to less than 5 points. By all accounts, the 2022 midterms are shaping up to be a favorable political environment for Republicans, generating optimism and excitement that Cao can make the district competitive and win.

It will take resources. At the end of the first quarter of 2022, Wexton had over $3 million in its war chest. That doesn’t include anything she’s raised yet, and PACs that are sure to invest to hold the line. Additionally, most ranking agencies have VA-10 as a pick-up opportunity, but not as strong as VA-7 and VA-2 in the Commonwealth, which means Cao will have to compete for attention and resources.

Fortunately, Cao is a strong fundraiser, actually topping the GOP field in the first quarter and posting another strong result in the pre-canvas reporting period. Although he has undoubtedly spent a lot of his cash in the final weeks of the appointment, he will have a solid base to build on.

Finally, the 15,000 voters who showed up exceeded expectations. There are a few systemic contributions to this: again, the favorable political environment and strong candidate fundraising meant that several voters were on TV and led to turnout. Plus, having 11 candidates all looking to get voters to vote helps broaden the pool. However, Cao was able to reach beyond the typical Republican base to bring new voters to the polls. This could bode well for its prospects in November.

Analysis of applications:

There are two ways to win a ranked vote. Perform well enough to approach 50% to ensure an inevitable victory, or get enough votes for second and third place to ensure that you are in the best position to cross 50% first. Hung Cao did both. After posting a 42% to 29% lead over Lawson in the first round, almost everyone concluded that Cao would win. As round after round Cao got more reallocated votes than Lawson, it also became clear that Lawson hadn’t gotten enough votes for second and third place to compete.

This was driven largely by geography. Lawson, a Prince William County supervisor, won her home county on the first ballot, 52% to Cao’s 31%. But the borough is dominated by the county of Loudoun, which had 44% of voters on the web (against 31% in PWC and 11% in Fauquier). Cao won Loudoun with 49% in the first round, and Lawson actually finished third, behind Brandon Michon (16% each). Cao also beat Lawson in Fauquier 44%-24% in the first round.

These trends continued until the 9th ballot. Down to the final three contestants, Cao handily won Loudoun with 60%, and Lawson again finished third, with 19.6% to Michon’s 20.1%. Despite winning 57% to 38% at Prince William, Lawson’s lackluster performance at Loudoun sealed his fate.

Cao and Michon, along with several other candidates, are based in Loudoun. It was noted that with Lawson leading the longest and best-funded campaign, having entered the race in the fall of 2021 even before the final lines were determined, Loudoun could fracture between several candidates, allowing a non-Ludoun candidate to win. In the end, Cao campaigned strong enough to prevent this from happening.

Additionally, while Lawson won her home ward (Brentsville) by a dominating margin of 66% to 20% over Cao, she only narrowly won the other Rural Crescent ward (Bull Run) 45%. at 35%. In Prince William’s third quarter, covering Coles and Occoquan, she actually lost to Cao, 43%-41%.

Finally, it’s worth noting that if you compare the results to my Q1 fundraising analysis (and pre-canvas filings found on FEC), the results were largely reflective of candidate fundraising. The top tier of fundraisers were the final three contestants. Second tier contestants like Max, Henley and Clancy posted modest fundraising numbers and finished with modest results, while the bottom tier of fundraisers all finished last.

Rank voting and a party-run exclusion process allow grassroots candidates to catch fire and surprise people. However, I don’t see it as a fundraiser as cause for receiving the most votes. Instead, as I note in my fundraising summaries, strong fundraising is a sign of a strong, well-organized campaign gaining momentum. A campaign operation that struggles to raise funds will also struggle to reach and attract voters.

Notes and Comments:

– By all accounts, the solicitation was well organized and well managed, thanks to the hard work of the volunteers ensuring a smooth and simple process (even one that involves ranking voting for 11 candidates). Ballots were promptly returned to the 10th District headquarters, and vote counting began around 8:30 p.m. and continued until 1:30 a.m., avoiding a second day of vote counting.

– That said, there were discrepancies in some constituencies between the number of registered voters and the number of votes cast. This is likely due to untrained volunteers, despite their best efforts, and the multi-step process involved in voter registration, which included a signed loyalty pledge and – if the voter had participated in a Democratic primary during for the past 5 years – a waiver form. These extra steps and hurdles may make Republican Committee members feel better, but they mean absolutely nothing and only serve to frustrate and complicate the process.

– While a firehouse primary with 15,000 voters is far better than an all-day convention with only a few hundred voters picking the candidate (and it’s still complete nonsense that some people think that’s a good way to build a party), it is a bad precursor to general elections. More than 475,000 voters cast their ballots in this district in 2020. Hung Cao won at least 9th place support from only 7,729 of them, or 1.6% of the district. Having never held office before, Cao will have to spend a lot of time and money running for voters, which a party-led nomination process has barely helped.

– The web was operated similarly to the 2021 statewide “unassembled convention” for statewide offices. These ballots were all counted with a live updated Google Spreadsheet, so everyone across the state (including political reporters) can watch, analyze and calculate the numbers. The 10th District committee voted against a similar action for Saturday’s results, instead using a Zoom call to share an Excel sheet. Unfortunately, different locations were updated on different tabs, so watchers only saw a fraction of what was happening at a time and couldn’t cycle through previous locations or rounds on their own. Localities updated with reassigned votes quickly, and if you looked away or weren’t at the computer for a while, you’d miss the updates.

– Not only did this make it a very frustrating experience to follow the results, but it also meant that no political reporters or websites were reporting the actual results. Most simply reported on the first ballot, and that Cao won (or was on track to win) the nomination. A candidate winning the nomination should be a major media success, but the 10th District committee’s decision not to make the results available for review has limited the number of reporters who can cover it. A big missed opportunity.

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