The shift in the race has come almost exclusively from female voters, who prefer McAuliffe by a 24-point margin over Cuccinelli. The candidates were effectively tied among women in a Washington Post poll in May.
McAuliffe’s strength among women is probably due in part to an intense campaign to portray Cuccinelli as a threat to women and the issues they care about most deeply. A new McAuliffe ad, for instance, features a Norfolk OB-GYN speaking directly to the camera about how she is “offended” by Cuccinelli’s position on abortion.
The challenge for Cuccinelli is stark: Nearly half of all voters view him unfavorably, and they trust his opponent as much as or more than the Republican on every major issue in the race, according to the poll. On trust to handle issues of special concern to women, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli by 23 points.
“I really disagree with Cuccinelli’s politics, especially his antiabortion stance,” said Gina Gabelia, 32, who lives in Ashburn and works at a nonprofit group.
As for McAuliffe, Gabelia said: “His advertisements make him sound like a stand-up guy, but who knows? . . . He has a good campaign manager.”
Cuccinelli has accused McAuliffe and other Democrats of waging a war on coal and working-class Virginians, but he trails by nine points among voters who were asked whom they trust more on energy and the environment. He has burnished his reputation among conservatives by opposing President Obama’s health-care law, but voters favor McAuliffe by eight points when it comes to health care. Cuccinelli does best when it comes to transportation and the economy and jobs; he is tied with McAuliffe on those issues.
The poll also found voters effectively split between candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, meaning that Democrats have a chance to sweep all three statewide offices this year for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. A McAuliffe victory would also buck a four-
decade Virginia tradition of electing a governor from the party that doesn’t occupy the White House.
Republicans, however, have an immediate opportunity to reverse the momentum on Wednesday, when Cuccinelli and McAuliffe will appear in a televised debate hosted by the influential Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. The debate will be important for McAuliffe, too, who lost a high-profile endorsement to another Northern Virginia business group earlier this month amid perceptions that he was not sufficiently serious or detail-oriented.