The Virginia gubernatorial race, according to a new poll, is tight.

Ken Cuccinelli- Bill O’Leary / The Washington Post

Interestingly, the race is little changed despite media coverage of the Star Scientific gift flap involving incumbent Bob McDonnell and, to a lesser extent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:

Republican Ken Cuccinelli leads Democrat Terry McAuliffe (37%-31%), but more than one-fourth (27%) of registered voters in Virginia remain undecided in the 2013 gubernatorial election, according to The Roanoke College Poll. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis claimed 5 percent of respondents.

Both candidates’ approval ratings have increased, although a large percentage of voters don’t know enough to comment on them. The economy and jobs continue to command a plurality (44 percent) of the voters’ attention as the top concern. As for Star Scientific:

Regarding the news story involving Star Scientific, its owner Jonnie Williams, and his involvement with gifts and loans to Gov. McDonnell and others, more than half (60%) of registered voters said they have not been following it closely at all. Only 9 percent said they have been following closely, and 25 percent said they have been following it somewhat closely. Of those who had been following very or somewhat closely, a large majority (83%) were able to identify McDonnell as being involved, and just over half (54%) said that Cuccinelli is part of the story.

The story has simply not permeated the way Democrats have hoped it would. McDonnell, for example, saw his favorable rating go up since April and his job performance hold steady.

Two items are particularly noteworthy. First, President Obama’s approval is down to 40 percent in the state, suggesting he’ll be of limited utility to McAuliffe, although he’ll try his best to push black and young voters to the polls. Second, more than 60 percent of voters think abortion should always be illegal or only sometimes legal. Cuccinelli’s support for abortion regulations, a target for McAuliffe, may be unhelpful to McAuliffe’s effort to paint Cuccinelli as an extremist.

The poll numbers suggest that neither Star Scientific nor abortion will be a silver bullet for McAuliffe and that he’ll have to work hard to get voters up to speed on the former. Voters, however, really aren’t paying attention to that or the race, perhaps more absorbed with D.C. scandals. Summer is not a time for most voters to tune into an election, especially at the state level. So be prepared for a relatively constant race for the next couple of months, followed by a fall dash to the finish when both candidates will try to make the other entirely unacceptable to the moderate electorate.


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