Women voters push McAuliffe ahead, polls find

Posted at 2:12 PM, Sep 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-24 14:12:47-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — With six weeks to go until Election Day and one day until a crucial debate showdown, two new polls indicate Democrat Terry McAuliffe on top of Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the much watched battle for Virginia governor.

And according to both surveys, released Monday night from NBC4/NBC News/Marist and Washington Post/Abt SRBI, McAuliffe’s advantage seems to be fueled by his lead among female voters.

McAuliffe, a businessman, former Democratic National Committee chairman and close adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, holds a 43%-38% advantage over Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, among likely voters in the NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll, with Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis at 8%.

In the Washington Post/Abt SRBI survey, McAuliffe is at 47%, with Cuccinelli at 39% and Sarvis at 10% among likely voters. McAuliffe’s advantage in both polls is within the surveys’ sampling errors.

McAuliffe holds an 18-point lead among women voters in the NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll and a 27-point margin in the Washington Post/Abt SRBI survey, with Cuccinelli leading by only 10 points and eight points among men in the two surveys.

The race turned negative this summer, with both campaigns and outside groups letting loose with a spate of negative ads. And that seems to have had an impact on both candidates (and especially Cuccinelli), whose favorable ratings in both surveys are nothing to brag about.

“Overall, as we look through these numbers, neither of these candidates has really passed the comfort level with Virginia voters,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

The McAuliffe campaign and Democrats have long characterized Cuccinelli’s views on social issues, female reproductive issues, and science as too extreme for mainstream Virginia voters, and this year have reminded voters of Cuccinelli’s connections and gifts from a political donor at the center of a scandal hovering over the state’s current governor, Republican Bob McDonnell.

A state investigation earlier this summer indicated the attorney general would not face charges for the failure to report the gifts, adding that there was no evidence Cuccinelli committed a crime.

Earlier this month Cuccinelli announced he had given $18,000 to a Richmond-based charity, in an attempt to allay criticism over the gifts he received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., the man involved in the gifts controversy surrounding McDonnell.

Meanwhile, the Cuccinelli campaign, as well as state and national Republicans, have slammed McAuliffe over federal investigations of an electric car company that McAuliffe co-founded.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold elections for governor in the year after a presidential contest, resulting in outsized attention. And with the Garden State’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, holding a huge lead over his Democratic challenger in his re-election bid (and with Democrats expected to win the special Senate election in New Jersey scheduled for October) the Virginia race is considered the only competitive statewide contest this year.

The NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll was conducted by telephone from September 17-19, with a sampling error for likely voters of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The Washington Post/Abt SRBI survey was conducted September 19-22, with 1,003 adults in Virginia, including 563 likely voters, questioned by telephone. The poll’s sampling error for likely voters of plus or minus five percentage points.

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