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Poll: Cuccinelli, McAuliffe neck-and-neck in Va. governor’s race

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State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and businessman Terry McAuliffe (D) are essentially tied in the Virginia governor’s race, a new survey finds, even if Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) decides to enter the contest as an Independent.

The Quinnipiac University poll confirms that the 2013 race will be a competitive and closely-watched affair, the latest piece of evidence that Virginia is a true swing state.

McAuliffe gets 40 percent of registered voters to 39 percent for Cuccinelli in a head-to-head matchup, a result relatively unchanged from a November Quinnipiac survey that gave McAuliffe a narrow 4-point lead. A trial heat in the new poll including Bolling gives him 13 percent and McAuliffe and Cuccinelli 34 percent apiece.

Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are now the lone serious contenders for their respective party nominations, after each man avoided potential challenges.

Cuccinelli has clear sailing to the Republican nod since Bolling decided to drop out of that contest, though he is still publicly mulling the possibility of running as an independent candidate. White House gate-crasher Tareq Salahi also claims to be running for the Republican nomination, but neither party is paying him much mind.

McAuliffe, meanwhile, has been running for the slot almost nonstop since coming up short in the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary. One possible intraparty foe, ex-Rep. Tom Perriello, announced last month that he would not run despite some urging from liberal activists that he do so.

Though he has been lieutenant governor since 2006, Bolling appears to be the least well-known of the three men, as 72 percent of voters said they did not know enough about him to form an opinion. Sixty-one percent said the same of McAuliffe, while 41 percent have no opinion of Cuccinelli, who is viewed favorably by 33 percent of voters and unfavorably by 25 percent.

“While all three candidates for governor have run statewide previously, voter memories are short and they are little-known to Virginia voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a press release. “It goes without saying that with this relatively low level of voter recognition it will be some time before the shape of the race becomes clear. What is clear is that. . .Bolling faces a pretty stiff uphill climb should he decide to run as an independent.”

Brown noted that in a three-way matchup, Bolling appears to be taking support away from both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli. In the two-way race, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe both lead among their own party’s voters by massive margins, and Cuccinelli has a slim lead with independents.

As the General Assembly begins its session, the poll finds that 43 percent of voters give the legislature a positive job approval rating and 39 percent a negative one. Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) gets a 54-27 job approval score, while new Sen. Timothy M. Kaine’s (D) rating is 48-30 and Sen. Mark Warner’s (D) is 59-27.

The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,134 registered voters Jan. 4-7, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.

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