RICHMOND, Va. — A new statewide poll shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia’s bitterly contested governor’s race this fall, with both candidates facing low favorability ratings amid a barrage of TV attack ads focusing on the candidates’ trustworthiness.
The Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday morning, shows 48 percent of those surveyed support McAuliffe to 42 percent who favor Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general. The results are based on live telephone interviews conducted Aug. 14-19 with 1,129 likely Virginia voters. McAuliffe’s lead is just outside the poll’s margin of sampling error of plus-or-minus 2.9 percentage points.
Among the factors contributing to McAuliffe’s edge: He leads Cuccinelli among female voters, more Republicans say they would back McAuliffe than Democrats who say they’d support Cuccinelli, and McAuliffe slightly leads his opponent on the questions of who voters consider more honest and trustworthy.
Ninety-three percent rate trustworthiness as very important or extremely important to them. That compares with 61 percent who consider experience very or extremely important, and 82 percent who say so about whether a candidate understands the problems of ordinary voters.
That may help explain an increasingly negative and big-spending television advertising deluge in this scandal-ridden election season.
Anti-McAuliffe spots aired by Cuccinelli, the Republican Governors Association and other allied conservative groups have targeted McAuliffe’s role as chairman of an electric-car company with Chinese ties and a plant in Mississippi that’s now under federal investigation over its handling of an immigrant investor visa program. One ad concludes with the words, “You can’t trust Terry McAuliffe.”
McAuliffe and groups supporting him are airing ads attacking gifts Cuccinelli accepted from the same corporate executive and political donor whose loans and personal gifts to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell have ensnared the governor in a federal criminal investigation. The ads also attack Cuccinelli for assistance the attorney general’s office allegedly gave energy companies in legal disputes with southwestern Virginia landowners over royalties for natural gas deposits beneath their property. One ad ends, “Ken Cuccinelli: He’s not for us.”
When likely voters were asked if they felt Cuccinelli was honest and trustworthy, 42 percent said yes and 43 percent said no. Asked the same question about McAuliffe, 39 percent said yes and 36 percent said no.
“It seems obvious that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s political troubles are hurting fellow Republican Cuccinelli,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Guilt by association may not be fair, but it sure is politically powerful. Trust matters and at this point; neither man is doing well in that category.”
Among male voters, it’s about even, with 45 percent favoring McAuliffe and 46 percent supporting Cuccinelli. But among women, 50 percent favor McAuliffe while 38 percent back Cuccinelli, a consistent foe of abortion rights as attorney general and in the Virginia Senate before that.
Only 1 percent of those who identify themselves as Democrats say they would vote for Cuccinelli, while 6 percent of those who say they are Republicans say they would vote for McAuliffe. As part of a conspicuous play by McAuliffe for moderate GOP crossover voters, the campaign announced Tuesday that Republican strategist Boyd Marcus, a longtime adviser to U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and former Gov. Jim Gilmore, had endorsed McAuliffe and was a paid adviser to his campaign.
Those who back Cuccinelli, however, are more enthusiastic about their candidate than McAuliffe backers. Eighty-five percent of Cuccinelli’s supporters describe themselves as very enthusiastic or somewhat enthusiastic, while 78 percent of McAuliffe supporters make the same claim about their candidate. Ten percent of Cuccinelli voters are unenthusiastic about him compared to 15 percent of McAuliffe backers who are not enthused about their choice.
Both candidates, however, labor under low favorability marks. Forty-one percent view Cuccinelli unfavorably to 35 percent who see him favorably. Thirty-four hold a favorable opinion of McAuliffe while 33 percent do not. McAuliffe is viewed as the more negative campaigner, with 56 percent saying he spends more time attacking Cuccinelli than explaining his own proposals while 52 percent feel Cuccinelli spends more time on the offensive than explaining his platform.
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