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Trailing with women, Cuccinelli seeks softer image

The bitter Virginia governor's race is about to hit its final sprint, picking up a frenetic pace post-Labor Day, as Democrat Terry McAuliffe still holds a narrow lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli with just over 60 days left in the contest.

And in a race that's been punctuated by controversy on both sides, Cuccinelli is releasing a positive minute-long ad, highlighting his work to free Thomas Haynesworth, a man wrongly convicted of rape who was behind bars for 27 years.

"In late 2010, a Democrat Commonwealth’s Attorney told me that he had this case that he though I should take a look at. And he said, 'Look, I think this guy might be innocent,'" the incumbent attorney general explains in the ad. "After going through all of the evidence, I was convinced that Thomas Haynesworth was innocent. And I took that case on myself."

The ad seems targeted to soften Cuccinelli's image and appeal to female voters--a key bloc where he trails McAuliffe by double digits, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month. Democrats have worked to paint Cuccinelli, who opposes abortion and gay marriage, as outside of the mainstream on social issues.

At one point in the ad, Cuccinelli appears emotional in a 2010 clip when he announced Haynesworth's release. Later, he hired him in his office.

"The Attorney General’s job is not convictions. It’s justice. And today, we got justice," Cuccinelli says, his voice shaking.

Haynesworth praises Cuccinelli in the ad, too, saying, "To me, he’s a hell of a guy."

The upbeat as is a far departure from the mudslinging both sides have been guilty of, punctuated by the ongoing scandal involving incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell has been embroiled in a scandal over more than $150,000 gifts and loans he and his family received from a controversial political donor. A new Washington Post story over the weekend says the governor was aware of the lavish gifts, which he had previously denied.

The Republican's troubles have made things difficult for Cuccinelli, who also accepted gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Cuccinelli amended his disclosures earlier this year and was cleared of any wrongdoing. And last week, Democrats  trumpeted a Washington Post story highlighting his work with a fathers' rights group.

McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and fundraiser with close ties to the Clintons, has faced questions over his business dealings and his former electric car company GreenTech--both on its success and now in an SEC investigation into visas the company provided to foreign investors. McAuliffe stepped down as the company's chairman late last year, and is not being personally investigated.