Terry McAuliffe Widens Lead in Virginia Governor’s Race

New polls show the Democrat pulling away in a race in which neither major-party candidate is that well liked by the voters.

By: Benjamin Freed

Two new polls in the Virginia gubernatorial race show Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe opening a wider lead over his Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. But glancing at the results of one survey, conducted by the Washington Post, it appears Virginia voters are as lukewarm as ever on their major-party choices to succeed outgoing Governor Bob McDonnell.

The Post found that 47 percent of voters plan to vote for McAuliffe, while 39 percent are leaning toward Cuccinelli. Another 10 percent are thinking of voting for the Libertarian Party's candidate, Robert Sarvis, an Annandale software developer who is running unusually strong for a third-party candidate. In another poll, conducted by NBC4 and Marist College, McAuliffe had a 43-38 edge over Cuccinelli, with Sarvis nabbing 8 percent of likely voters.

Just four months ago, Cuccinelli, who was elected the state's attorney general in 2009, held a 10-point lead over McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and longtime fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton who has never held elected office. But since May, the Post found, the lead has swung over to McAuliffe largely through a 24-point lead with women. Much of McAuliffe's campaign has focused on Cuccinelli's ironclad opposition to abortion.

Cuccinelli has also been hurt by a gifts scandal centered around McDonnell and his family. In the Post's poll, 31 percent of respondents saying Cuccinelli's acceptance of $18,000 in gifts from Johnnie R. Williams, the CEO of vitamin manufacturer Star Scientific, made them less likely to vote for him, even though Cuccinelli has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Cuccinelli's campaign continues to torch McAuliffe's leadership of GreenTech Automotive, an electric car company he founded in Mississippi and is now the subject of a federal investigation.

Not surprisingly, neither major candidate gets high marks on their personal character. Only 34 percent of voters told the Post they find McAuliffe "honest and trustworthy," while 28 percent said the same for Cuccinelli. But aside from women's health, on which McAuliffe holds a 23-point lead, they are roughly even on policy issues.

As for the Libertarian Sarvis, he won't win, but he is putting a severe dent in Cuccinelli's numbers, particularly in southwestern Virginia, which should be prime country for a conservative Republican like Cuccinelli. There, the Post found, Sarvis is pulling in 19 percent of likely voters.

The Post surveyed 812 registered voters and 562 likely voters from Sept. 19 to 22, while NBC4 polled 1,069 registered voters and 546 likely voters from Sept. 17 to 19.