In the first public poll released since Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced he wouldn't mount an independent bid to be Virginia's next governor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe remain locked in a tight, head-to-head race. Nearly all public polling this year has shown the likely opponents in a dead heat in the race to succeed GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The Quinnipiac University survey unveiled Wednesday shows Cuccinelli leading his likely Democratic opponent, 40 percent to 38 percent, with 18 percent undecided. In the previous poll, conducted in mid-February, the two were tied at 38 percent apiece.
Both candidates remain relatively unknown in the state. Twenty percent of voters report a favorable view of McAuliffe, versus 16 percent with an unfavorable view, but 63 percent say they haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion. Thanks to a previous statewide run, voters are slightly more familiar with Cuccinelli, but 44 percent still say they haven't heard enough about him. Three-in-ten voters view the attorney general favorably, while 24 percent view him unfavorably.
Cuccinelli leads McAuliffe among independent voters, 37 percent to 29 percent, but a slightly higher, albeit small, percentage of voters view him as overly partisan: 29 percent say Cuccinelli is too conservative, while 21 percent say McAuliffe is too liberal. Democrats have tried to paint the attorney general as too extreme for the purple state, and even some Republicans have complained about the direction of his campaign.
"At this point in the race, the number of voters who see Cuccinelli as 'too conservative' is higher than the number who see McAulifee as 'too liberal.' But the general public does not see the GOP candidate as a far right kind of guy as some both inside and outside the Republican party have suggested," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "It would not be surprising to see McAuliffe try to pin the ideologue label on Cuccinelli but as of now the label doesn't stick."
Cuccinelli receives higher marks for experience, with 44 percent of voters saying he has the right kind of experience to be governor. Twenty-two percent say the Republican lacks the right kind of experience, while 35 percent are undecided. Twenty-eight percent say McAuliffe, who has never held elective office, has the right kind of experience, while 23 percent said he doesn't and 49 percent say they aren't sure.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted March 20-25. It surveyed 1,098 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.