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NBC/Marist poll: Va. gubernatorial race in dead heat

The Virginia governor’s race remains razor tight six months out, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll released Wednesday morning on The Daily Rundown.

The Virginia governor’s race remains razor tight six months out, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll released Wednesday morning on The Daily Rundown.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds a slim lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli (43% to 41%) among registered voters, which is within the margin of error, in the most competitive race of 2013.

The poll offers both good and bad omens for each candidate. When looking at just likely voters, Cuccinelli takes the lead, 45% to 42%.

The results are different from this weekend's Washington Post poll that had Cuccinelli up five points, but the attorney general still has the narrow advantage overall in the NBC/Marist poll. Part of that slight tilt to Cuccinelli is because the "intensity advantage" is with the GOP attorney general: 53% of Cuccinelli’s backers strongly support him, compared with 47% for McAuliffe. Fifty-one percent approve of Cuccinelli’s performance as attorney general, with 24% disapproving and a quarter unsure.

But there’s certainly time, and room, for the former DNC chairman to grow. Of those polled, 44% say they’ve never heard of the longtime Democratic fundraiser and businessman, compared to just 32% who said the same about Cuccinelli.

The biggest problem for Cuccinelli in the commonwealth is his own party, where 53% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the GOP. For Democrats, that number is just 46%.

Both men also have solidified their base, with 91% of registered voters backing their own party’s nominee. The two are deadlocked with independent voters at 36% each, with over a quarter of independents still up for grabs.

Voters are also strictly divided along both gender and age lines. McAuliffe leads women, 50% to 34%, while Cuccinelli leads male voters 49% to 34%. The Democrat leads with voters under the age of 30 by 13 points, but the GOP nominee leads voters age 30 to 44 by a seven-point margin. McAuliffe has a four point lead with voters 45 to 59, and the two are virtually tied with voters over 60.

For all Democrats’ efforts to paint the sitting attorney general as too conservative or outside the mainstream, those ideas haven’t taken root in voters’ minds. Just 27% say the Republican is too conservative, with a 39% plurality of voters saying he’s just right on issues. For McAuliffe, 28% see him as too liberal, while 33% see him as just right.

But on the impressions each side will try to highlight in the coming months, both nominees start out in virtual dead heats. For which candidate better understands the problems they’re facing, Cuccinelli leads 33% to 29%, and Virginians also trust Cuccinelli more to do what’s best for the state, 37% to 31%.

On social issues such as abortion--a key difference Democrats have highlighted between the anti-abortion Cuccinelli and abortion rights McAuliffe in the swing state--the two men are in a virtual tie, with 31% saying Cuccinelli is closer to their position compared to 30% for McAuliffe. Thirty-four percent say Cuccinelli shares their values, with just 28% picking McAuliffe.

The April 28-May 2 poll surveyed 1,095 registered voters with a margin of error of 3%.