Washington (CNN) - With just over a month and a half to go until Election Day, a new poll indicates a close contest in Virginia's gubernatorial battle.
Democratic businessman Terry McAuliffe and Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are basically all knotted up, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday morning.
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The poll indicates McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at 44% among likely commonwealth voters, with Cuccinelli at 41%. The three point margin for McAuliffe, who lost a bid for the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, is within the survey's sampling error.
McAuliffe held a six point 48%-42% lead over Cuccinelli in the previous Quinnipiac poll, which was conducted in mid-August. And surveys from other organizations also indicated McAuliffe with a single-digit advantage over Cuccinelli.
The new poll suggests that Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate who stands at 7%, could hold a key to the November election.
"History tells us that third-party candidates tend to experience shrinking support as Election Day nears.
If Sarvis does get 7 percent of the actual vote, that would reflect not just his strength but the weakness of the major party candidates," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"Right now, we can't tell whether Sarvis' candidacy is hurting Cuccinelli more than McAuliffe. The Libertarian candidate is getting 3 percent of the Republican vote and 2 percent of the Democratic vote, but 14 percent of independent voters."
The poll indicates Cuccinelli ahead 48%-38% among white voters and 47%-40% among men, with McAuliffe leading 49%-35% among women and 77%-9% among black voters. Independents are split at 37% among the two candidates.
Likely voters are split on their opinion of McAuliffe, with 38% having a favorable view and an equal amount saying they hold a negative view. Thirty-four percent have a positive view of Cuccinelli, with 51% saying they see him in a negative light, up ten points since last month.
The McAuliffe campaign and Democrats have long characterized Cuccinelli's views on social 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.
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 the 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 Quinnipiac University poll was conducted September 9-15, with 1,005 likely voters in the commonwealth questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.