Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II (Ryan Stone/Washington Post)

Yet another poll is out showing Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli ll trailing the Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. The Christopher Newport University poll finds:

McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli by 7% among likely voters, but Libertarian [Robert] Sarvis continues to poll well. If Sarvis’ numbers hold, the winner may have less than a majority of voters for the first time since the Civil Rights era. Most voters say the candidates for governor bear no responsibility for the federal government shutdown, but of those who say they do, an overwhelming number fault Cuccinelli (47%), not McAuliffe (7%).

What is telling , the pollster noted, is “The federal government shutdown is definitely motivating some voters against Cuccinelli, who already had a Tea Party problem with Independents and business minded Republicans.” In other words, with a vivid example of dysfunction and right-wing extremism before their eyes, independents and center-right voters are taking no chances with a Republican who already has the reputation for controversy and fiery rhetoric.

Republican E.W. Jackson is getting trounced in the lieutenant governor’s race, while Mark Obenshain is miraculously holding on in a dead heat for attorney general.

The conventional wisdom is that the GOP “brand” is damaged. But center-right voters may be making a finer distinction. For them, it’s the shutdown-squad mentality that is toxic; it is the fear of endlessly antagonistic rhetoric and aversion to good governance that is the turnoff. And really who can blame them? Running against Washington, D.C., is a tried-and-true tactic, but the new normal for Republicans outside of deep-red jurisdictions may very well be running against the unpalatable, polarized environment in which the choice is the shutdown squad or big-government liberals. Cuccinelli doesn’t fit that mold — a triangulating Republican, if you will — and he is suffering for it.

Senate GOP candidates in 2014 should pay heed. In winnable races where Mitt Romney won in 2012, voters still may not be willing to buy into the anti-government destructiveness and inflexibility of some GOP contenders; they should be wary of going too far right even in places like Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina.  It is in these states but most especially in purple ones like Colorado that a conservative running as a “different kind of Republican” is going to best position himself between Democratic incumbents too liberal for their constituents and the bogeyman of recalcitrant Republicans.

Fairly or not, Cuccinelli is the wrong sort of Republican in a swing state at precisely the wrong time. Other Republicans should pay close attention.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.