Nearly 10 months before the election, it appears Virginia’s candidates for governor have some work to do to better acquaint themselves with the state’s voters.
A new statewide poll has the 2013 race in a statistical dead heat, but also shows that none of the likely or potential candidates is well-known to registered voters.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the presumptive nominees of their respective parties, are virtually dead even in a survey released this morning by Quinnipiac University. McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, was favored by 40 percent of the voters who participated in the survey, while 39 percent supported Cuccinelli, the state attorney general.
If Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling were to run as an independent, he would get 13 percent of the vote and McAuliffe and Cuccinelli would each get 34 percent, according to the survey. Bolling has not ruled out an independent bid since ending his candidacy for the GOP nomination in late November.
The poll indicates that large segments of the electorate don’t know the candidates well enough to form an opinion. Cuccinelli is the best known, with 33 percent holding a favorable opinion and 25 percent unfavorable. But 41 percent don’t know enough about the outspoken attorney general to form an opinion, according to the poll.
More than two-thirds of the voters surveyed said they didn’t know enough about McAuliffe to have an opinion, and 72 percent said the same about Bolling, who has been the lieutenant governor for seven years.
“While all three candidates for governor have run statewide previously, voter memories are short and they are little-known to Virginia voters,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “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 as an independent Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling faces a pretty stiff uphill climb should he decide to run as an independent.”
The results come from telephone interviews 1,134 registered voters conducted between Friday and Monday. The survey has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
The poll has Cuccinelli with a 47 percent to 35 percent lead among men, and McAuliffe holding a 45 percent to 32 percent advantage among women. Cuccinelli has a 48 percent job approval rating as attorney general, with 27 percent disapproving.
“With these relatively low levels of familiarity, the candidate who is best able to define himself and his opponent or opponents negatively is likely to become the Old Dominion’s next governor,” Brown said in a news release. “That would make it likely that Virginia television viewers in the coming months will see a heavy dose of negative television ads from the campaigns.”
The incumbent governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, has a 54 percent job approval rating in the poll, with 27 percent disapproving. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, remains Virginia’s most popular statewide elected official with a 59 percent approval mark and 27 percent disapproval. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat who just took office last week, has a 48 percent approval rating, with 30 percent disapproving.
The General Assembly, which begins its 2013 session today, has a 43 percent to 39 percent favorable/unfavorable mark.
– Michael Sluss