Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli after addressing the Virginia Energy and Opportunity Forum in Arlington, Va., Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.
Cliff Owen/AP

Women nudge purple state blue in Virginia governor’s race

Updated

With less than three weeks until Election Day in Virginia, Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s woman problem is only getting worse.

A new NBC4/NBC News Marist poll of next month’s hotly contested race for governor shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s lead growing–thanks to a widening gender gap along with a backlash toward the GOP for the shutdown in the Old Dominion.

McAuliffe now leads the race by eight points,46%-38%, with libertarian Robert Sarvis taking 9% of the vote. But the Democrat’s lead with women is now at 20 points–a two-point jump since last month’s NBC poll–with McAuliffe up among female likely voters 52%-32%. Cuccinelli still leads among men, 44%-40%, but that’s been cut in half since his eight point lead with likely male voters last month.

But while the socially conservative Cuccinelli is especially succeptible to attacks aimed at female voters, pollsters say it’s indicative of a larger trend nationwide for the GOP. 

“What we’re finding in ncreasingly mirrors what the national polls say as well,” said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. “It’s not surprising this is the case. When you have a candiate that’s open to the the kind of issue attacks Cuccinelii is, the Democrats know how to take full advantage of that – and they are right now.”

McAuliffe’s campaign is indeed relying on the growing gender gap and is working to reinforce it in the race’s final days. On Saturday, the Democratic nominee will bring in Hillary Clinton for a rally in the vote-rich Northern Virginia suburb of Falls Church. The trip to the critical swing state is her first foray back onto the campaign trail since leaving the State Department.

His latest ad on the airwaves is harsh against Cuccinelli on social issues, featuring shadowy footage of Cuccinelli talking about abortion at an event for a Christian group, ending with the fade-to-black tagline, “too extreme for Virginia.” 

The new poll is one of several troubling indicators for Cuccinelli. In the increasingly purple state, at least being competitive with female voters is key. In the 2009 governor’s race, Republican Bob McDonnell carried the female vote by eight points on his way to a big win. McDonnell also won among independents by a 2-1 margin, and McAuliffe has widened his edge among that bloc as well. While in last month’s survey the two men were statistically tied among independents, now McAuliffe leads 41%-33%, with Sarvis getting 15% in a sign of disgust with both candidates.

Cuccinelli has sought to push back against the gap, and even brought in South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to campaign this week. And while Cuccinelli hasn’t shied away from his opposition to abortion, his campaign has said that the won’t make it a focal point of his term, focusing instead of jobs and the economy, and has talked often about his work on domestic violence cases and helping free a wrongly convicted rapist. 

But Cuccinelli has been heavily damaged by McAuliffe’s negative ads, especially as he’s being outspent 2-1 on air. Fifty-one percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Cuccinelli, while just 34% hold a positive opinion, also an uptick from the last survey. Views of McAuliffe are split, with 40% holding a positive view of him and 39% having an unfavorable impression.

“His negatives have risen throught the campaign,” said Miringhoff. “Obviously the ads have been targeted to that attitude. McAuliffe knows where his votes are, and the gender gap is wher he’s finding them.” 

The full extent of Cuccinelli’s troubles isn’t just his lag with female voters. The shutdown has complicated the GOP candidate’s bid in a state heavily populated by federal workers. Among registered voters, 54% say they blame Republicans in Congress for the government shutdown was was just resolved, while only 29% say President Obama is at fault.

Ken Cuccinelli, Terry Mcauliffe and Virginia

Women nudge purple state blue in Virginia governor's race

Updated