Terry McAuliffe (Maddie Meyer/The Washington Post) Terry McAuliffe (Maddie Meyer/The Washington Post)

I’m genuinely surprised by the polling for the Virginia gubernatorial race. The results aren’t that are startling, but the number of people who say they’ve actually settled on a candidate is. In the latest Purple Strategies poll, 81 percent picked a candidate (Democrat Terry McAuliffe leads by 5 points). Who are these people?

At the risk of sounding a little like the often-incorrectly quoted Pauline Kael, I’ve yet to meet a contented, certain Virginian voter. A co-congregant who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 asked me over the weekend, “Am I missing something? They’re both, horrible, right?” Yes. And that’s the standard reaction to the race between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and McAuliffe. You get the sense that if there is a drop of rain on election day or any distraction even regular voters may not make the effort to vote.

True liberals think McAuliffe is sleazy and doesn’t believe in much other than Terry McAuliffe. Mainstream conservatives worry Cuccinelli will become the norm in the state, leading to a crack up in the party and permanently handing statewide races to the Democrats. A knowledgeable GOP insider also confessed that party regulars worry “that primaries would become a thing of the past in Virginia Republican politics and that
every Republican nomination for every office would be decided by conventions of Tea Party and Ron/Rand Paul devotees.”

Indeed there is quite a bit of bitterness that Cuccinelli insisted on a convention to give himself the inside track (it worked!) over a competitor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who would have had wider general election appeal.

The race has the feel of the 2005 gubernatorial race when conservative Jerry Kilgore lost to Tim Kaine by about 6 points. Kilgore talked about the death penalty, while Kaine said he’d be a Mark Warner Democrat. Turnout that year was about 45 percent, with Kilgore getting 60,000 votes less than Bolling and then-attorney general candidate Bob McDonnell.

There was surely a danger sign for the GOP yesterday. The McAuliffe team crowed when Cuccinelli brought in rightwing firebrand talk show host Mark Levin while McAuliffe was getting the endorsement of the GOP mayor of Virginia Beach. That, the Dems hope, indicates Cuccinelli is still trying to make the sale with his base whereas McAuliffe has his in hand.

Would a very low turnout race help Cuccinelli or McAuliffe? That ultimately depends on the enthusiasm of each candidate’s base and the candidates’ get-out-the-vote operation to drag every last partisan to the polls. (If McAuliffe is operating off the Obama GOTV data, he’d have the edge.) Based on what I’ve seen, they’ll be a lot of voters letting the GOTV calls go to voicemail.