Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a six point lead in the Virginia governor's race in a newly released Quinnipiac University poll, the first survey of likely voters ahead of the increasingly bitter 2013 contest.
McAuliffe leads Republican Ken Cuccinelli 48%-42% in the poll out Wednesday morning. Helping the Democrat's rise—he has a 12-point lead among both women, and voters say the Democrat understands their problems better in the increasingly bitter contest in the Old Dominion.
Among female voters, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, 50%-38%. The two are nearly split with independent voters, though Cuccinelli has a slight 44%-42% advantage.
But in a race that's been marred by back and forth attacks and scarred by scandals on both sides, it's Cuccinelli who seems to have taken the biggest hit. Forty-one percent say they have an unfavorable opinion of the GOP nominee, while 35% view him favorably, and 22% don't know enough about him. McAuliffe is more even, with 34% viewing him favorably, 33% unfavorably, and 31% saying they haven't heard enough about the former Democratic National Committee chairman.
"The campaign has been light on issues and big on personalities, and it is in the area of personal characteristics that McAuliffe has a small edge," wrote Quinnipiac assistant polling director Peter A. Brown. "It seems obvious that Gov. Bob McDonnell's political troubles are hurting fellow Republican Cuccinelli. Guilt by association may not be fair, but it sure is politically powerful. Trust matters and at this point neither man is doing all that well in that category."
Fifty-eight percent of voters say honesty and trustworthiness is "extremely important," but voters are divided on that quality between the two candidates, with McAuliffe facing questions over his former electric car company, GreenTech, and Cuccinelli under fire over his ties to Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, whose relationship and gifts to McDonnell and his family have the incumbent embroiled in controversy. On whether McAuliffe is honest and trustworthy, it's a 39%-36% split, and a 42%-43% divide for Cuccinelli.
Forty-four percent say "understanding the problems of people like you," is important. Thirty-eight percent say McAuliffe understands their problems, with 42% say he doesn't. It's a deeper divide for Cuccinelli, with 51% saying he doesn't understand their problems, with 37% saying he does.
With 42 percent voters saying experience is extremely important to their vote, Cuccinelli, who's repeatedly hit McAuliffe over his lack of governing experience, has 56%-31% edge, compared to 46%-34% for McAuliffe.
One thing voters agreed on, though—that both candidates are spending more of their time attacking their opponent other than explaining what they'd do if elected. Respondents said Cuccinelli is spending more time attacking, 52%-32%, compared to McAuliffe, 56%-35%.
McAuliffe just secured a key endorsement on Tuesday, with Virginia GOP strategist Boyd Marcus, a former chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, crossing to the Democrat's camp as a paid strategist.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted Aug. 14-19 and surveyed 1,129 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.