Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli are in a dead heat in this November's Virginia gubernatorial race, with an independent bid from Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling drawing equally from both major-party candidates, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows.
In a head-to-head matchup, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli by a single point, 40 percent to 39 percent, well within the poll's margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.9 percentage points. Two percent of voters prefer another candidate, 1 percent wouldn't vote, and 18 percent are undecided.
McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, draws 85 percent of self-identified Democrats, matched by Cuccinelli, who takes 85 percent of Republicans. Independents tilt towards the Republican attorney general, 38 percent to 29 percent, though one-in-three independents are undecided or say they prefer another candidate.
In a three-way race, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli would be tied, each with 34 percent. Bolling would be a distant third, at 13 percent. Bolling would draw 9 percent of Democrats, 10 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of independents.
"Logic tells us that if Bolling should run for governor as an independent, he would likely take more votes from fellow Republican Cuccinelli than from Democrat McAuliffe, but at this point the data indicates he would take equally from both major party candidates," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
In the previous poll, conducted just after last year's general election, McAuliffe held a slim, 4-point advantage over Cuccinelli. Changes in support for either candidate in the new poll are not statistically significant. The November poll was conducted before Bolling announced he would not seek the Republican nomination, which will be awarded at this May's state party convention in Richmond; Bolling trailed McAuliffe by 2 percentage points in the November poll.
When Bolling dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination, he said he would consider running as an independent. But the Washington Post reported last week that Bolling had made further steps towards an independent bid, "courting business leaders and polling."
An independent bid would first need to establish greater name recognition. Despite the fact that Bolling is the highest-ranking officeholder potentially seeking the governorship, more than seven-in-ten voters say they haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion (18 percent view him favorably, compared to 9 percent who have an unfavorable opinion of him).
Comparatively, Cuccinelli is better-known. A third of voters have a favorable opinion of the sometimes-controversial AG, while 25 percent view him unfavorably.
Even McAuliffe has more name-ID than Bolling: 23 percent have a favorable opinion of the close Clinton confidant, who also ran in 2009, and 16 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
Bolling's job-approval ratings are higher -- 40 percent approve, 16 percent disapprove -- but he still falls short of Cuccinelli on this measure. Some 48 percent of voters approve of the way Cuccinelli is handling his current job, compared to 27 percent who disapprove.
Bolling has close ties to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is barred from seeking reelection by the commonwealth's term limits. Fifty-four percent of Old Dominion voters approve of the job McDonnell is doing in the final year of his term, and 27 percent disapprove.
The poll was conducted Jan. 4-7, surveying 1,134 registered voters.