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

Polls opened in 11 precincts across Virginia’s newly drawn 10th District on Saturday, May 21st, as Republicans participated in a party-run canvass (also known as a “firehouse primary”) to choose the nominee to take on Rep. Jennifer Wexton in November. With 11 candidates running in the race, the process used Ranked-Choice Voting to ensure a candidate would receive a majority support. Turnout was 15,174 voters.

Late into the night, after 9 rounds of counting (and recounting the ranked preferences of voters of dropped-off 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%
Theresa Coates Ellis: 1.7%
John Beatty: 1.5%
Jeff Mayhugh: 0.4%
Brooke Taylor: 0.4%

After each round, the lowest-ranked candidate dropped off, and all those who had Taylor as their first choice then had their second-choice votes (if any) allocated to other candidates. If their second choices were later dropped off, it would move to their third choice, and so on.

Round 2:
(redistributing Taylor’s 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% (-)
Beatty: 1.5% (-)
Mayhugh: 0.4% (-)

As a note: the changes reflected here represent percentages, to the 10th decimal point. Candidates may have picked up votes without bumping up a tenth of a percentage; also a candidate may have picked up more votes than another candidate, but not moved (for example, if they went from 4.76% to 4.83%, they’d still be reported as 4.8%).

Round 3:
(redistributing Mayhugh’s 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%)
Beatty: 1.6% (+0.1%)

Round 4:
(redistributing Beatty’s 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’s 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’s 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’s 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’s voters)

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

Round 9:
(redistributing Clancy’s voters)

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

Hung Cao wins!


District Analysis:

Cao will take on Wexton in a district Joe Biden won by double-digits, but one which Glenn Youngkin closed the gap with Terry McAuliffe to under 5 points. By all accounts, the 2022 mid-terms are shaping up to be a favorable political environment for Republicans, generating optimism and enthusiasm that Cao can make the district competitive and win.

It will take resources. At the end of 2022 Q1, Wexton had over $3M in her war chest. This doesn’t include anything she’s raised yet, and PACs who are sure to invest to hold the line. In addition, most ranking agencies have VA-10 as a pickup opportunity, but not as strong as VA-7 and VA-2 in the Commonwealth, meaning Cao will have to compete for attention and resources.

Fortunately, Cao is a strong fundraiser, actually outraising the GOP field in Q1 and posting another strong result in the pre-canvass reporting period. While he undoubtedly spent much of his cash on hand in the closing weeks of the nomination, he’ll have a strong base to build upon.

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


Nomination Analysis: 

There are two ways to win a ranked-choice vote. Either perform strong enough to get close to 50% to ensure an inevitable victory, or secure enough second- and third-place votes to make sure you’re best positioned to cross 50% first. Hung Cao did both of these. After posting a 42%-29% lead over Lawson on the first ballot, almost all concluded that Cao would win. As round after round showed Cao picking more reallocated votes than Lawson, it also became clear that Lawson didn’t pick up nearly enough second- and third-place votes to compete.

This was driven largely by geography. Lawson, a Prince William County supervisor, won her home county on the first ballot, 52% to 31% for Cao. But the district is dominated by Loudoun County, which accounted for 44% of canvas voters (compared to 31% in PWC and 11% in Fauquier). Cao won Loudoun with 49% on the first ballot, and Lawson actually finished in third, behind Brandon Michon (16% each). Cao also defeated Lawson in Fauquier 44%-24% on the first ballot.

These trends continued through to the 9th ballot. Down to the final three candidates, Cao handedly won Loudoun with 60%, and Lawson again finished in third, with 19.6% to Michon’s 20.1%. Despite her 57%-38% win in Prince William, Lawson’s poor performance in Loudoun sealed her fate.

Cao and Michon, along with several other candidates, are Loudoun-based. It was noted that with Lawson running the longest and best-funded campaign, having gotten into the race in Fall 2021 even before the final lines were determined, that Loudoun might fracture across several candidates, allowing a non-Loudoun nominee to win. Ultimately, Cao ran a strong enough campaign to prevent that from happening.

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

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

Ranked-choice voting and an exclusionary party-run process does allow for grassroots candidates to catch fire and surprise people. However, I don’t see this as fundraising as a cause for receiving the most votes. Instead, as I note in my fundraising roundups, strong fundraising is the sign of a strong, well-organized campaign that is gaining traction. A campaign operation that has difficulty raising money is going to have difficulty reaching and appealing to voters as well.


Notes & Observations: 

– By all accounts, the canvass was well-organized and well-run, thanks to the hard work of volunteers ensuring a smooth and simple process (even one that involves rank-order voting for 11 candidates). Ballots were returned to the 10th District headquarters promptly, and vote counting started around 8:30pm and continued until 1:30am, avoiding a second-day of vote tallying.

– That said, there were some discrepancies in some precincts between the number of signed-in voters and the number of ballots cast. This is likely due to untrained volunteers, despite their best efforts, and the multi-step process involved in checking in voters, which included a signed loyalty pledge, and – if the voter had participated in a Democratic primary in the past 5 years – a renunciation 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 magnitudes better than an all-day convention with just a few hundred voters choosing the nominee (and it remains completely absurd that some people think that is a proper way to build a party), it is a poor precursor to the general election. Over 475,000 voters cast a ballot in this district in 2020. Hung Cao won the at-least-9th-place support of just 7,729 of them, or 1.6% of the district. Having never held office before, Cao will need to spend a lot of time and money introducing himself to voters, something that a party-run nomination process barely helped with.

– The canvas was operated similarly to 2021’s statewide “unassembled convention” for the statewide offices. Those ballots were all counted with a Google spreadsheet updated live, so everyone across the state (including political reporters) could watch, analyze, and crunch numbers. The 10th District Committee voted against doing similar for Saturday’s results, instead using a Zoom call to screenshare an Excel sheet. Unfortunately, the different localities were updated on different tabs, so observers would only see a fraction of what was going on at a time, and couldn’t flip through the localities or previous rounds on their own. Localities were updated with reallocated votes quickly, and if you glanced away or weren’t in front of the computer for a moment, you’d miss the updates.

– Not only did this make for a very frustrating experience tracking the results, it also means that no political reporter or website carried 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 news hit, but the decision of the 10th District Committee to not make the results available for review limited how much reporters could cover it. A big missed opportunity.

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