WASHINGTON (CNN) - A new poll of Virginia Democrats suggests that there's no front runner in the three-way battle for the state's gubernatorial nomination.
The Suffolk University survey's Thursday release comes just five days before the state's Democratic primary.
The poll indicates that 29 percent of likely Democratic primary voters support state senator Creigh Deeds, with 26 percent backing former
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and 23 percent supporting former house delegate Brian Moran.
Taking into account the survey's 4.4 percent sampling error, the contest is statistically a dead heat. And to make matters even more unpredictable, 22 percent of Virginians questioned in the poll said they were still undecided at this late date.
The winner of the June 9 primary will face off this November against Republican Bob McDonnell, the former Virginia attorney general.
"What makes this race even tougher to call is that when undecided voters statewide were prodded to choose one of the three candidates, many were breaking to McAuliffe and, to a lesser extent, Moran," says David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University in Boston.
The survey suggests that half of those polled were very or somewhat likely to change their mind before next Tuesday's primary
"The Deeds lead could be fluid, and the final tally could hinge on last-minute campaign ads, momentum, the weather, and get-out-the-vote efforts from all the candidates," adds Paleologos.
Virginia holds an open primary, which means independents and Republicans are eligible to vote in the Democratic contest. The state's current governor, Tim Kaine, who's also the current chairman of the DNC, is term-limited. Republicans would dearly love to score victories in Virginia and in New Jersey, the other state holding a gubernatorial contest this year. In
New Jersey, Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine trails Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, in recent polling. The GOP hopes winning back a Democratic-held governorship in either New Jersey or Virginia, or both, would end the bleeding from 2006 and 2008, and launch Republicans towards victory in the 2010 midterm elections.
The Suffolk University poll was conducted Monday through Wednesday, with 500 likely Democratic primary voters questioned by telephone.