With Obama on way, Democrat widens lead in crucial governor's race
October 29th, 2013
09:48 AM ET
8 years ago

With Obama on way, Democrat widens lead in crucial governor's race

Washington (CNN) - With one week to go until Election Day, a new poll indicates Democrat Terry McAuliffe has opened up a double-digit lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the much-watched battle for Virginia governor.

The release of the Washington Post/Abt SRBI survey Tuesday morning comes a few hours after McAuliffe's campaign announced that President Barack Obama would campaign with the candidate in northern Virginia on Sunday.

With the clock ticking towards Election Day, both McAuliffe, a businessman and politically well-connected former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, are bringing out some of the biggest names in their parties to energize the base in what's expected to be a low-turnout contest.

According to the poll, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 51%-39% among likely voters in the Commonwealth. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, who made the most of voter discontent with the two major candidates, stands at 8%.

McAuliffe's 12-point lead in the poll, which was conducted Thursday through Sunday, is up from an 8-point margin in the Washington Post's previous poll conducted last month. McAuliffe was up by the high single digits in six surveys from other organizations since the start of September.

While the previous polls all indicated a healthy gender gap in the race, the new Washington Post survey suggests a huge one, with McAuliffe and Cuccinell tied among men but McAuliffe up by 24 percentage points among women.

One of the top non-partisan political handicappers, The Cook Political Report, moved its rating of the race from "Lean Democratic" to "Likely Democratic."

Goverment shutdown hurt Cuccinelli?

Cuccinellli, a conservative, was careful during the 16-day long partial federal government shutdown not to criticize his GOP allies in the House, whose push to couple dismantling the federal health care law to funding the government led to the shutdown.

After the the shutdown ended, Cuccinelli didn't give a firm answer of whether he would have supported the vote to reopen the government and raise the nation's debt ceiling, saying "I don't know whether I would have voted for it."

Democrats pounded Cuccinelli throughout the crisis.

Virginia is home to a large number of federal workers and the poll indicates that more than a third of registered voters questioned said they were inconvenienced by the shutdown. And of the 55% who say the shutdown is very important to their vote, McAuliffe holds a more than 2-1 advantage.

McAuliffe's campaign and national and state Democrats have long tried to paint Cuccinelli as too conservative for mainstream Virginia voters. According to the poll, more than half say Cuccinelli's views on most issues are too conservative and 36% say they are "just about right." About half say McAuliffe's views are "just about right," with four in 10 saying he's too liberal.

Energizing the base

While McAuliffe leads in all the public opinion polls and he and his allies have greatly outraised and outspent Cuccinelli and the outside groups backing the GOP candidate, this is expected to be a low-turnout, off-year election which tends to trend older and slightly more conservative. That's why both campaigns are putting the emphasis in the homestretch in getting their voters out to the polls.

The Washington Post survey's release comes as McAuliffe campaigns Tuesday for a third out of four straight days with just about the biggest star in his party, former President Bill Clinton, who's a close friend.

Clinton's urging Democratic voters
to turn out.

"In presidential years a group that looks like America shows up and then in your governor's race years and next year in the midterm election years when you elect all of the House of Representative members, a third of the Senate and then in most other states most of the governors, most of the legislatures, a different America shows up."

And Obama's appearance on Sunday will be the first time he's teamed up with McAuliffe on the campaign trail. The next day, on the eve of the election, Vice President Joe Biden will campaign with McAuliffe in northern Virginia.

Conservative stars pitch in for Cuccinelli

While Cuccinelli can't count on any presidents, former presidents, or vice presidents, joining him on the campaign trail, he is getting a helping hand from some conservative favorites.

Even though he's considered a hero to many tea party supporters and other grassroots activists thanks to his very public conservative crusades, including his push against Obamacare, Cuccinelli is bringing in the cavalry to help bring out conservative voters to the polls.

He teams up with with two-term Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has strong credentials with fiscal and social conservatives, on Tuesday.

On Monday, Cuccinelli was joined at three events with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who's become one of the biggest stars of the conservative movement. At an event in voter-rich northern Virginia, Paul touted that Cuccinelli was "the first attorney general to sue over Obamacare," and went onto predict that "he'll be a leader in defending Virginia against an overzealous government."

Earlier this month former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 GOP presidential candidate and current Fox News and talk radio host, joined Cuccinelli on the campaign trail, as did Nikki Haley, South Carolina's Republican governor.

Last week Cuccinelli was joined by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, on a conference call. And former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who last year battled eventual Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney deep into the primary calendar, is using his political action committee to recruit supporters to knock on doors for Cuccinelli this weekend.

Cuccinelli campaign defends strategy

The cavalcade of surrogates, along with a reduction of ad spending in the more moderate Washington D.C. Suburbs in northern Virginia, suggests that the Cuccinelli campaign is concerned that conservative voters won't turn out in big numbers, and it also suggests that the Republican candidate has waved the white flag on trying to appeal to the increasing number of moderate voters in purple state Virginia.

But the Cuccinelli campaign says focusing on conservatives should not be interpreted as a sign of trouble, but instead says getting the base voters out is a common strategy in the final days of any campaign. They add that they are doing exactly what the McAuliffe campaign is doing in using Bill Clinton on the campaign trail.

"Attorney General Cuccinelli is grateful to have the support of great conservative leaders like Governor Haley, Chairman Ryan, Senator Paul and Governor Jindal in the homestretch of this campaign. They're supporting Ken because he has a principled, positive Virginia's future and substantive plans to create 58,000 jobs and diversify the economy," Cuccinelli Communications Director Richard Cullen told CNN.

The winner of the election will succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who won a similar low-turnout contest four years ago.

"While I'm sure they are anxious, I think they are working on shoring up their base mostly. The Cuccinelli people have for months thought this was going to end up being more of a base election than not, and I think they have run their campaign with that in mind," said Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

"My sense is that while Republicans feel it is a very long shot, they hope that if turnout is about what it was in 2009 and if they get their base out, they might still have a shot."

Third party candidate a factor in race

The support from Rand Paul, as well as a recent endorsement from the senator's father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a three-time presidential candidate who enjoys strong support from libertarians, comes as Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, is preventing Cuccinelli from locking up the GOP vote.

According to the Washington Post poll, McAuliffe was winning 94% of Democrats while Cuccinelli was taking only 85% of Republicans. A Quinnipiac University survey released last week had similar numbers. Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling institute, said one of Cuccinelli's biggest obstacles is failing to win the support of an overwhelming majority of his party.

"If Cuccinelli can't bring more Republicans home, he is likely to be toast," Brown said.

Health care a factor in the race

Cuccinelli, a longtime opponent of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, has made the law a big part of his campaign.

"That's what's on the ballot November 5, folks. If you want to hold back the tide of Obamacare, I need your vote on November 5. And if you think everything's peachy with Obamacare, there's a candidate on the ballot for you, and it's Terry McAuliffe," Cuccinelli said Monday.

Tuesday Cuccinelli's campaign went up with new TV commercial that touted him as the candidate to "stop Obamacare."

And Cuccinelli was quick to respond to the news that Obama would campaign with McAuliffe just days before the election.

"It's telling that in the final moments of the campaign for governor, Terry McAuliffe has decided to campaign with President Obama. The move makes official what we have already known to be true: McAuliffe's unwavering support for the President's signature legislative achievement, Obamacare," said Cuccinelli.

But the Washington Post poll indicates that likely voters say they trust McAuliffe more than Cuccinelli when it comes to health care, even though the rollout of the new health law is been a public relations nightmare.

Much Watched Race

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, the Virginia race is considered the only competitive statewide contest this year.

If McAuliffe wins, he would break a long streak in Virginia gubernatorial contests. In the last nine elections, the political party controlling the White House lost the governor's race in the Old Dominion.

Republicans currently control 30 of the nation's governorships.

The Washington Post/Abt SRBI poll was conducted October 24-27, with 1,061 registered voters, including 761 likely voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Filed under: Ken Cuccinelli • President Obama • Terry McAuliffe • Virginia
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Evergreen

    Romney ran on repealing Obamacare(s) on day one. Keep pushing that issue GOP. Also, after the 2010 election results, voters have learned that mid-term elections matter.

    October 29, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  2. Don in albuquerque

    @rs...Yeah don't talk about Heidi's grandpa that way. You should not talk about Gunderson so. He will whip out his MBA from Texas A&M on you.

    October 29, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  3. cumulus

    MBA major brain aneurism

    October 29, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The move makes official what we have already known to be true: McAuliffe's unwavering support for the President's signature legislative achievement, Obamacare," said Cuccinelli.

    It is also going to make crystal clear who the people will support at the polls come election day.
    President Obama's support of McAuliffe is going to make a huge positive impact on his campaign.
    Maybe Cucci can have Mittens and Queen Anne come out to campaign with him and give out little cakes to the crowd....
    That should get him 3-8 more votes.

    October 29, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  5. rs

    One thing in Cuccinelli's favor... As the State's Attorney General, he has declared that despite his status as a candidate for the office of Governor, he can still issue legal edicts IF there is some sort of legal challenge regarding the election's outcome....
    And the GOP wonders why no one thinks them credible anymore...

    October 29, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  6. wendel

    women are key in this and most elections. The radical republicans are doing everything to undermine a woman's rights. Lets vote as many republican out at mid term. Forward 2016

    October 29, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. cumulus

    Mittens has already showed up, no help there, this is a referendum on the gop .bye

    October 29, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  8. A True Conservative

    The Dear Leader is coming to Va. That means for free stuff for us!! Yippee!!!! Americans support Obamacare....until they realize that THEY may have to pay for it.....Thank you LA Times for printing the truth!

    October 29, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I think the President has every intention of helping the campaign of any Democrat or Independent running in 2014.
    He is great at it. The people love and support him. He will draw in the crowds. And folks will vote for whomever he supports.
    The House should be filled with reasonable, civic-minded congressmen/women next year, and President Obama and the Democratic leadership is going to do everything possible to make that happen.
    No more $24 BILLION temper tantrum throwing cray-crays in the House.

    October 29, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  10. Ol' Yeller

    Cuccinelli's Health Care Plan- Force women to go to doctor and have their coochinelli's probed.
    McAuliffe's plan- try to help the poor and disadvantaged get insured so they do not drive up everyone else's health care costs by seeking care at the ER.
    I cannot imagine how McAuliffe is leading among women.

    October 29, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  11. rs

    A True Conservative

    The Dear Leader is coming to Va. That means for free stuff for us!! Yippee!!!! Americans support Obamacare....until they realize that THEY may have to pay for it.....Thank you LA Times for printing the truth!
    Are you REALLY that simple?
    Americans pay for it all- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and way more. You know what? They LIKE those programs and they have been successful. No thinks anything is free- except obviously "cut taxes and spend" Republicans, which is why the GOP no longer has any "fiscal conservative" credibility anymore.

    October 29, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  12. Bill

    I think Cuccinelli should be subject to a probe. Of his brain, because he clearly is not as smart as he wants people to believe. Anyone who runs a campaign on issues that are proven losers does not deserve to win. Ken, about 10% of the electorate cares about social issues. Surely, those high paid consultants and advisors could have told you this. But, your entire career has been based on promoting these issues (and losing mostly), so you really were boxed in. Time to get off the public dole and get a job.

    October 29, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  13. Gunderson

    He, He,
    Glad you listen to old Gunderson. Gunderson flattered. Clue: THERE NO FREE LUNCH. You who live by sword, die by sword. Old Gunderson say: More food stamps! RICH NO PAY FAIR SHARE !

    October 29, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  14. George

    Two reasons Cuccinelli is loosing: true conservatives are not true conservatives, more like rednecks and racists which turns off a lot of people even who share conservative values; gentrification of DC which has increased the VA adult black population by about 100,000 during the past ten years.

    October 29, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  15. Thomas

    Why won't GW Bush show up and give some good old boy support for his fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli ?

    October 29, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  16. TONE

    Poor Ricky boy are you throwing a temper tantrum poor baby.

    October 29, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  17. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Well according to the latest Daily Press poll, McAuliffe has a 12 point lead in the polls. And being that the Daily Press is my local paper, I trust that poll over any Pugh Research, or Rasmussen poll.

    October 29, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
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