Things are looking up for Virginia’s Republican nominee for governor, Ken Cuccinelli. Going into the race he had a number of problems — the appearance of ideological extremism, potential involvement in a gift flap swirling around the governor and big questions as to whether he could appeal to women voters. But slowly he seems to be making headway on these fronts.

Cuccinelli Ken Cuccinelli (Steve Helber / Associated Press)

The Post reports: “A state prosecutor found no evidence that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II broke the law when he failed to disclose substantial stock holdings in Star Scientific and some gifts from the company’s chief executive.” Cuccinelli’s opponents will argue that the standard for gubernatorial candidates has to be higher than illegality, but in a complicated scandal not many state voters are following (according to polling released this week) the issue just lost a lot of traction for his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe. The Star Scientific gift matter causes 14 percent of the electorate to be less likely to vote for him but 10 percent to be more likely to vote for him, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday.

As for ideology, McAuliffe is doing a ham-handed job of attacking Cuccinelli, as my colleague Glenn Kessler points out in giving his campaign three Pinocchios for falsely claiming Cuccinelli wants to get rid of Social Security and Medicare:

It is fair to say that Cuccinelli is skeptical of government-run social programs and the motivations of politicians who have promoted them. It is also clear that he prefers free-market solutions as part of any overhaul of such programs. But that doesn’t mean he does not think such programs should no longer exist — or that money should not be spent on such programs.

This suggests McAuliffe may have problems finding good material to throw at Cuccinelli. If he attacks Cuccinelli for backing abortion-clinic reforms, Cuccinelli is likely to point out that McAuliffe’s abortion-on-demand philosophy is greatly at odds with many Virginians’. McAuliffe may accuse Cuccinelli of being anti-government, but it is McAuliffe’s own support for Obamacare and expansion of Medicaid that are problematic.

And finally, Cuccinelli is holding steady in polling. One poll has him six points up while another has him four points down. Cuccinelli is down 16 points with women voters in the Quinnipiac poll, but he is in positive territory with women on his current job performance and whether he has the right experience. Moreover, large number of women voters, like all Virginians, don’t know the candidates well enough to pick who’ll they’ll vote for or even form an opinion about them.

Cuccinelli would be smart to get substantive with voters. He’s already put forth a tax plan, but taxes are relatively low in Virginia. Voters say they are concerned most about jobs and the economy. It is there, on bread and butter issues, that Cuccinelli needs to gain traction and make inroads with suburban and women voters. On energy development and state regulations, Cuccinelli could make some headway, but he’ll need to get more specific and contrast the sorts of policies he’ll implement with the ones his opponent champions.

Cuccinelli is hardly out of the woods, but frankly McAuliffe has frittered away a lot of time and many opportunities to define Cuccinelli before Cuccinelli could introduce himself to voters. The race will be close, but the worst of it may be behind Cuccinelli.