Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe has taken a slight lead over Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia's gubernatorial race, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday morning. McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli, 43 percent to 38 percent, with 17 percent of voters undecided, a minor boost for McAuliffe, who has been statistically tied with Cuccinelli in each of the university's three polls this year, while other public polling has shown diverging results.
Six months out from Election Day, both candidates have a long way to go in introducing themselves to voters, the poll shows. Though both candidates have released biographical ads since Quinnipiac's last survey was taken, a majority of voters, 60 percent, say they still don't know enough about McAuliffe to have an opinion of him, while 42 percent of voters say the same about Cuccinelli. Meanwhile, just 31 percent of voters believe that McAuliffe has the right experience to be governor, while 26 percent say he does not. By contrast, 45 percent of voters say Cuccinelli has the right experience, while 25 percent say he does not.
Each candidate's favorability among Virginians has stayed relatively stable over the last five months. 31 percent of voters say they have a favorable opinion of the Republican, while 22 percent say they have a favorable opinion of McAuliffe. Both ratings are roughly in line with each candidate's favorability in Quinnipiac's previous surveys.
McAuliffe is under-performing President Obama among black voters, with just 70 percent of African-Americans saying they'll vote for him, while 5 percent say they'll back Cuccinelli. Obama took in 93 percent of the black vote in the state in 2012 and 92 percent in 2008, according to exit polling data. Even the 2009 Democratic nominee, Creigh Deeds, who lost to Gov. Bob McDonnell by 17 points, won 90 percent of the black vote.
McAuliffe will need to work to reproduce Obama's coalition, getting out the vote among minority and youth voters (who back McAuliffe, 43 percent to 35 percent, according to the survey), in order to best Cuccinelli in the off-year contest, which tend to feature older, white and more conservative voters. Nineteen percent of the Quinnipiac survey's respondents were black, closer to the composition of the 2012 electorate, which was 20 percent African-American, than in 2009, when just 16 percent of the electorate was African-American.
A recent Washington Post poll also found that McAuliffe was lagging with non-white voters, besting Cuccinelli 57 to 21 percent.
Cuccinelli, meanwhile, continues to trail McAuliffe among female voters, earning the support of just 33 percent of women, while 47 percent say they support McAuliffe. Democrats are heavily targeting female voters in the leadup to the Republican Party's convention this weekend, where Cuccinelli will formally receive his party's nomination. The state Democratic Party is targeting thousands of households with robocalls this week, reminding voters that Cuccinelli opposes abortion rights, even in the cases of rape and incest.
The Post poll showed Cuccinelli leading McAuliffe, 46 to 41 percent, among registered voters, with a 10-point lead for Cuccinelli among likely voters. A NBC News/Marist poll released last week more closely resembles the new Quinnipiac poll, showing a tighter race, with McAuliffe marginally ahead among registered voters, and Cuccinelli with an insignificant lead among likely voters.