POLITICS: PennAve

Terry McAuliffe pulling ahead in Virginia governor race

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Virginia,Steve Contorno,Tea Party,Terry McAuliffe,Ken Cuccinelli,Polls,Campaigns,PennAve,2013 Virginia Governor Race

Democrat Terry McAuliffe continues to outpoll Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor race, holding an 8 percentage point lead less than four weeks out from Election Day, the latest survey shows.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday has McAuliffe, a former Democratic Party chairman, with 47 percent of the vote. Cuccinelli is at 39 percent. That's consistent with other polls released this week from Politico and Christopher Newport University.

If there's a silver lining for Cuccinelli, it's that libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis came in at just 8 percent in the poll, a drop from the double-digit support he'd been racking in a series of early polls. That's a potentially serious blow to Savis who needed to be "polling at 10 percent or above" by Thursday to qualify for a spot in the next gubernatorial debate with Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.

The Quinnipiac result gives Sarvis an average of 9 percent in recent polls, according to Real Clear Politics, a poll aggregating site debate organizers are using to evaluate Sarvis' standing.

Conventional wisdom says Sarvis, who previously ran for office as a Republican, would hurt Cuccinelli on Election Day more than McAuliffe. Though polls have shown the third-party candidate syphoning support away from both candidates, every swing voter Cuccinelli loses to Sarvis makes it harder for him to catch McAuliffe.

Cuccinelli has worked behind the scenes to make it more difficult for Sarvis to participate. The Washington Examiner first reported last month that Cuccinelli had "asked questions about raising the polling percentage for the third-party candidate," according to a debate organizer. A Cuccinelli spokesperson said a vote for Sarvis was a vote for McAuliffe.

But if Sarvis was left out of the debate at Virginia Tech, it would strip the libertarian of much-needed exposure two weeks before voters go to the polls. Support for third-party candidates typically dwindles by Election Day.

The Quinnipiac poll shows Cuccinelli has a lot more to worry about than a fringe candidate working on a shoestring budget. Nearly half of the state's voters say Cuccinelli is too conservative, the fruit of McAuliffe's months-long ad campaign, which painted the Tea Party darling as extreme on social issues. McAuliffe, who is too liberal to just 38 percent of voters, is up nearly 20 percentage points over Cuccinelli among women.

Voters also find McAuliffe more trustworthy and are split on who would is better equipped to deal with the economy and create jobs.

McAuliffe has helped his own cause by appearing more gubernatorial to voters despite no experience in public office. The career fundraiser has the right experience for the job, 52 percent of Virginians say. While that's not as good as Cuccinelli, who six in 10 voters think has a background fitting for the office, it's a marked improvement for a candidate who came into the race virtually unknown outside of political circles.

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