Republican Ken Cuccinelli, left, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe share a light moment at a Virginia governor's forum. / Joe Mahoney, AP
With about seven weeks to go before Virginia voters go to the polls, the governor's race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli is shaping up as a nail-biter.
A new Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday shows former national Democratic Party chairman McAuliffe has the support of 44% of likely Virginia voters, compared with 41% who back Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general. The difference is within the survey's margin of error of +/-3.09 percentage points.
McAuliffe had a 6-point edge over Cuccinelli in last month's Quinnipiac poll. Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian Party candidate with 7% support in the new poll, could be key.
"History tells us that third-party candidates tend to experience shrinking support as Election Day nears," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "If Sarvis does get 7% of the actual vote, that would reflect not just his strength but the weakness of the major party candidates."
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have been slugging it out for months over who has the best ideas for Virginia, often considered a national political bellwether and one of two states electing a governor in November. (The other is New Jersey.)
McAuliffe, who lost the 2009 race for governor, has been criticized for his business ventures and friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Cuccinelli has been portrayed as too extreme in his views on abortion, health care and other social issues. He also has had to deal with fallout from his ties to Johnnie Williams, a political donor at the heart of a scandal that's been dogging Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The Quinnipiac poll shows neither major-party candidate is generating warm and fuzzy feelings. More than half of Virginia's likely voters have an unfavorable view of Cuccinelli, up 10 points since August, compared with 34% who say they have a favorable opinion of the attorney general.
McAuliffe's ratings show a split: 38% of likely voters say they have a favorable view of him and 38% say they don't, the poll shows.
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