News & Politics

Virginia Voters Find McAuliffe Preferable, if Not Exactly Likable

The Democratic nominee is opening a lead over Ken Cuccinelli in a new poll, but neither candidate is much of a crowd-pleaser.

Terry McAuliffe, a frontrunner whom not that many people like. Photograph by Flickr user Edward Kimmel.

A new poll in the Virginia governor’s race shows Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe pulling away from his Republican rival, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. But if Virginia voters are most emphatic about anything this year, it’s that they think their gubernatorial field stinks.

Forty-four percent of voters queried in poll released yesterday said they plan to vote for McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee leader and longtime fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Cuccinelli trailed with 37 percent support. Nine percent are leaning toward the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, with the remaining nine percent of voters still undecided a little more than two months before election day.

But voters are taking a dismal view toward both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli. Only 36 percent of voters say they have a favorable opinion of McAuliffe, while 35 percent say the same for Cuccinelli. Meanwhile, 48 percent of voters have a dislike for McAuliffe, while 54 percent take an unfavorable view toward Cuccinelli.

The survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the League of Conservation voters. It came out yesterday after a candidates’ forum ostensibly on climate and energy issues at the George Mason School of Law in Arlington.

But, consistent with the rancor that has marked this year’s governor’s race, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli spent much of the forum sniping at each other over social issues and personal ethics scandals. Cuccinelli focused on McAuliffe’s involvement of GreenTech, an electric-car company in Mississippi that is now the subject of a federal investigation.

“Will [Virginians] vote for someone who may enter office with a federal investigation hanging over his head?,” Cuccinelli asked the crowd, according to the Washington Post. But Cuccinelli isn’t entirely clear of federal probing, having recently admitted taking gifts from Johnnie Williams, the CEO of vitamin manufacturer Star Scientific whose largesse is at the center of a federal investigation into Governor Bob McDonnell. (Cuccinelli was cleared of wrongdoing after amending personal financial documents.)

Meanwhile, McAuliffe spent much of yesterday’s forum targeting Cuccinelli for his involvement—while in office—with fathers’ rights groups that have been criticized for trying to reduce child support payments.

As for the issue directly at hand at yesterday’s event, 40 percent of voters in the poll said it is “not that important” that Virginia’s next governor tackle climate change. The poll was conducted from Aug. 27-28 and surveyed 500 likely voters.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.