Virginia Governor’s Race Spices Up 2013

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  July 19, 2013 at 9:25 AM EST


Watch the Virginia candidates for governor debate in the live stream player above beginning at 11 a.m. EDT July 20. Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe will field questions from moderator Judy Woodruff.

The Morning Line

This fall the eyes of the political world will be fixed on Virginia, with the state playing host to the most competitive race of 2013, as businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe faces off against Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s Republican attorney general.

With the Old Dominion having served as a hotly-contested battleground state in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, the result of this year’s gubernatorial contest, just like the 2009 battle won by Republican Bob McDonnell, will be looked at for national implications heading into the 2014 midterms.

A trio of polls released this week ahead of Saturday’s first debate between the two candidates reveal a close race. McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli by four points in two of the surveys. He has a 43 percent to 39 percent advantage in a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, and a 41 percent to 37 percent lead in the one done by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling.

A Roanoke College poll found Cuccinelli out front with 37 percent and McAuliffe with 31 percent. More than a quarter of respondents in the Roanoke survey said they were undecided.

One of the interesting trends to watch going forward will be how the candidates split the support among women voters. President Barack Obama won female voters in Virginia by seven points over John McCain in 2008, and by nine points over Mitt Romney last year. But in his decisive victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds in 2009, McDonnell flipped the score, winning women by eight points, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Democrats have attacked Cuccinelli for being outside the mainstream of Virginia voters when it comes to his views on women’s issues, including the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act, and limiting abortion rights.

Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has attempted to soften his image with women voters. His first television ad of the campaign, released in April and featuring his wife as narrator, focused on his work on women’s issues and human trafficking.

For the moment, at least, it appears that McAuliffe has the edge when it comes to the gender gap. The Democrat leads by 16 points among women according to the Quinnipiac poll, while Cuccinelli has an eight-point advantage among men.

Outside forces could also play a role in the race, with the ethical cloud surrounding McDonnell that has consumed much of the oxygen in the Virginia political scene right now.

The current GOP governor has come under intense scrutiny for failing to disclose $145,000 in cash and gifts he and his family received from a wealthy campaign donor in 2011 and 2012.

The scandal does not seem to have impacted Cuccinelli, with 70 percent of voters saying the developments make no difference in their decision this November, according to the Quinnipiac survey.

On Thursday, a state prosecutor found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Cuccinelli’s part for failing to report stock holdings he had in Star Scientific and gifts from the company’s chief executive, Jonnie Williams Sr., the individual at the center of the McDonnell controversy.

Heading into Saturday’s debate, Politico’s Alexander Burns notes that Democrats have their own concerns about McAuliffe’s campaign:

Despite all the breaks their candidate has caught this year, what still keeps Democrats awake at night is chronic uncertainty over whether McAuliffe can rein in his showman’s instincts, hit his marks and present himself as, you know, gubernatorial.

McAuliffe’s friends and allies freely acknowledge that’s not necessarily an easy sell for a man who once waved a bottle of rum around on national television, while clad in a floral shirt, on the day of Puerto Rico’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary. The same expansive personality that helped McAuliffe bank nearly twice as much cash as Cuccinelli last month is also a big fat target for his opponent to bait, prod and attack.

PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Judy Woodruff will moderate Saturday’s debate, which is sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association and is being held at The Homestead in Hot Springs.

The VBA and the NewsHour will live-stream the debate beginning at 11 a.m. ET.

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