The margin between the two major-party candidates is driven by a huge gender gap. Among men, the two candidates are running even, with Cuccinelli at 45 percent and McAuliffe at 44 percent. But among women, Cuccinelli trails by 24 points — 58 percent to 34 percent.
McAuliffe’s substantial lead puts him in a position to break a long pattern in Virginia gubernatorial races. In the nine most recent elections, the party holding the White House has lost the governor’s race. Cuccinelli’s weaknesses, more than McAuliffe’s strengths, put that streak in jeopardy, according to one question in the poll.
Among those supporting the Democrat, 64 percent say they are voting against Cuccinelli rather than for McAuliffe. Meanwhile, among the attorney general’s supporters, 50 percent say they are casting a positive vote for the candidate while 44 percent say they are voting against McAuliffe, a businessman who is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
McAuliffe’s strong position also could boost Democrats’ chances of sweeping statewide offices for the first time in a quarter-century — and of making substantial gains in the GOP-dominated House of Delegates. According to the poll, the race for lieutenant governor is equally lopsided for the Democrat, while the Democratic candidate for attorney general is just three points ahead of the Republican — within the margin of error.
Cuccinelli’s image has deteriorated consistently during the campaign, damaged by not only perceptions of his conservatism but also a backlash against the recent partial shutdown of the federal government, for which a majority of voters blame Republicans in Congress. The gift scandal that has engulfed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) also has contributed to Cuccinelli’s problems.
McAuliffe, with superior financial resources, has pummeled Cuccinelli, particularly on social issues, including abortion and gay rights. Outside groups working on behalf of McAuliffe have added to the onslaught. The new poll underscores the severity of the damage that McAuliffe’s campaign has inflicted with a strategy based more on tearing his opponent down than on offering a clear vision of the kind of governor he would be.
McAuliffe, whom former vice president Al Gore once called “the greatest fundraiser in the history of the universe,” has had a huge cash advantage over Cuccinelli. The Democrat has pulled in more than $34 million, $8.1 million of it between Oct. 1 and Oct. 23. Cuccinelli has raised just under $20 million, $2.9 million of it this month. The numbers were published Monday by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.