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Closer than they appear? McAuliffe only up four in Virginia

A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday morning show only four points separate McAuliffe and Cuccinelli in Virginia.
Terry McAuliffe
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) waits backstage before being announcing during a campaign event at VFW Post 1503, October 27, 2013 in Dale City, Virginia.

Why are Democratic heavy hitters lining up to stump for Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor's race even as poll numbers showed him with a heavy lead? New polling numbers may show why. 

A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday morning shows the Democratic nominee leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli by only four points -- a much closer margin than other public polls over the last month. 

McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 45%-41%, with Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis taking 9%. That's a marked change from a Quinnipiac survey a week ago that showed McAuliffe up by eight points. And it's a far cry from a Washington Post poll released Monday evening that showed McAuliffe building a 12-point lead in the race's final week. 

But it's different turnout models in each of the polls that could explain the wide discrepancy, as HuffPost Pollster's Mark Blumenthal pointed out. Quinnipiac had a slightly more Republican electorate, with 31% Republicans and 31% independents. In the Post's poll, Democrats had an eight point party ID advantage, 35%-27%. In the GOP sweep of the state in 2009, exit polling showed GOP turnout exceeded Democrats 37%-33%. 

Off year elections in Virginia typically see a more Republican turnout -- and it's a fear Democrats are well aware of, especially given a nearly four decades old "jinx" where the president's party loses the Old Dominion race the year after an election. McAuliffe, a former DNC chairman and Clinton aide, has been stumping around the state with his close friend former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her first political appearance since leaving office for McAuliffe earlier this month, and President Obama will campaign this Sunday for McAuliffe, followed by Vice President Joe Biden on Monday before Tuesday's vote.

Cuccinelli, in contrast, has been turning to more conservative icons such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the race's closing days, hoping to appeal to his base, especially as he's being heavily outspent on the airwaves. In a Monday appearance for McAuliffe, former President Clinton warned that Democrats shouldn't be complacent and make sure they turn out to the polls. 

The new poll also showed the same underlying trends though that have been problematic for Cuccinelli. He's still losing women by a 13-point margin, 50%-37%, and McAuliffe is winning independents by 46%-31%, with 16% going to Sarvis. Cuccinelli has a 52%-40% negative rating, while McAuliffe's is at 46%-41%. 

Still, Cuccinelli's campaign heralded the new poll as a sign of late momentum breaking their way. 

"With just six days to go, and as Terry McAuliffe fully embraces Obamacare and out-of-state liberal interests, Ken Cuccinelli’s positive vision and substantive plans to grow the economy and ease burdens on middle-class families are gaining momentum," said Cuccinelli senior strategist Chris LaCivita. "The experts can say what they will but our campaign intends to deliver its message on Election Day." 

Cuccinelli's campaign also emailed out a statement from moderate former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis: "Watch out folks, Cuccinelli is one of the best closers in Virginia and the president has upped the ante by coming in this weekend! This has shaped up to be a big opportunity for folks to send Washington a message on Obamacare."

McAuliffe's campaign downplayed the Quinnipiac poll as an outlier, and pointed to a Roanoke College poll that showed McAuliffe up 15. 

"Mainstream Virginians continue to side with Terry's commonsense policies to grow the economy and his commitment to working in a bipartisan way to create jobs in the Commonwealth over Ken Cuccinelli's extreme Tea Party agenda," said McAuliffe spokesperson Rachel Thomas. "The last days of this election will be about making sure those who are focused on issues like transportation, education, and diversifying the economy vote on Nov. 5 and don't let their voices get drowned out by the extreme Tea Party fringe focused on ideological social issues."