Democrat keeps narrow lead in Virginia governor race

Updated
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, center, walks to a backstage meeting with the news media following his participation in the...
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, center, walks to a backstage meeting with the news media following his participation in the...
Cliff Owen/AP

With less than two months until Election Day in Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a narrow three-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, leading 44%-41% in a new poll in the swing state’s bitter gubernatorial contest.

This is the first Quinnipiac University poll that’s included Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis, and he draws a surprising 7% among likely voters. While his final margin likely won’t be that high, his presence could have an outsized influence in a close race where many voters aren’t happy with either of the two major party nominees.

“Right now, we can’t tell whether Sarvis’ candidacy is hurting Cuccinelli more than McAuliffe,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a release. “The Libertarian candidate is getting 3% of the Republican vote and 2% of the Democratic vote, but 14% of independent voters.”

But while McAuliffe’s slim two-point lead is within the poll’s margin of error, other numbers are more troubling for Cuccinelli. Fifty-one percent of voters now say they have an unfavorable view of the attorney general, with just 34% holding a favorable opinion. For McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee Chairman, voters are evenly split on his favorability at 38%.

And as he has in previous polls, the Republican continues to lag among critical female voters. McAuliffe leads women 49%-35%, while Cuccinelli leads among men, 47%-40%.

Independent voters are also evenly split between both the GOP and Democratic nominee, with 37% apiece. But that’s far behind what Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell got during his successful 2009 campaign, with exit polling showing him doubling his Democratic challenger among independents.

Cuccinelli’s campaign trumpeted the new polling numbers though, which shows them much closer to McAuliffe than other recent public and private polls.

“This race is within the margin of error, which we always knew was the case,” said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix. “As voters learn more about Ken Cuccinelli’s record of fighting for Virginia and Terry McAuliffe’s record of putting himself first at the expense of workers, they are going side with the attorney general.  With each passing day, the energy and enthusiasm on the ground in support of Cuccinelli grows and with less than 50 days, our campaign is working to deliver victory on November 5th.”

But McAuliffe’s campaign pounced on the attorney general’s rising negatives as evidence it had the momentum in the race’s closing stretch.

“We never put much stock in a single poll, but with more than half of Virginians finding Cuccinelli and his extreme social agenda unfavorable everyone should expect to see the Cuccinelli campaign become more and more desperate in the final weeks of the campaign,” said McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin.

The Quinnpiac poll was conducted Sept. 9-15 and surveyed 1,005 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

Democrat keeps narrow lead in Virginia governor race

Updated