Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has cut Democrat Terry McAuliffe's lead in half, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, but there's a Libertarian wildcard in the race who could complicate the final 50 days of the race.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed McAuliffe with a narrowing 44 percent to 41 percent edge over Cuccinelli after weeks of polls gave the Democrat about a 7-point advantage.
In what could be a sign of discontent with both candidates, Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis tallied 7 percent in the poll of likely voters. Most of his support comes from self-described independents and it's not clear which candidate he hurts the most.
It's possible Sarvis is a late summer protest pick for voters disenfranchised by the nasty, negative race. Neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli is well liked by Virginians — McAuliffe's favorability is split at 38 percent, while Cuccinelli has a net -17 favorability rating — and 18 percent are undecided or may change their mind by Nov. 5.
Third-party candidates tend to see their support dwindle by Election Day. Many polls last year gave Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode, a former Virginia congressman, a chance to steal significant support from Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the Old Dominion. But in November, Goode pulled in just 0.33 percent of the vote. Libertarian Gary Johnson received 0.80 percent.
Cuccinelli has refocused his campaign on rallying conservative voters and honing his attacks on McAuliffe's lack of experience in public office and time spent as a Democratic kingpin in Washington. The Republican attorney general also appeared to catch a break Wednesday when news broke that a settlement was reached in an embezzlement case involving former Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider.
The chef's trial was scheduled to take place in October just weeks before the election. Schneider's defense was likely to focus heavily on Cuccinelli's conflict of interest in prosecuting the case and drag in an ugly state scandal involving Gov. Bob McDonnell and Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Jr. Cuccinelli's relationship with the well-connected businessman has drawn scrutiny throughout the race, and the Republican was forced to return $18,000 worth of gifts from Williams.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, continues to air ads throughout the state that paint Cuccinelli as an extremist, particularly on issues important to women. As it is, there's a significant gender gap between the two candidates. McAuliffe has a 14-point lead among female voters, while Cuccinelli has a 7-point advantage with men.