In a battleground state where Democrats label religious faith as too extreme, Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, known for his strong support of homeschooling, pro-life, and other values voter issues, has tightened the Virginia governor's race, nearly catching up to Democrat Terry McAuliffe and perhaps making the race "too close to call."
The new poll from Quinnipiac University, released Wednesday, found McAuliffe ahead at 45 percent to Cuccinelli's 41 percent, but it also discovered that if Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis were not in the race, McAuliffe would only lead by two points – 47 percent to 45 percent – making the race "too close to call."
"For the past several weeks, political pundits have written off Ken Cuccinelli well before any polls have opened or closed, but we have consistently maintained that we know this is a margin race as exhibited in today's Quinnipiac University poll," Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli campaign senior strategist said in a press release.
"With just six days to go, and as Terry McAuliffe fully embraces ObamaCare and out-of-state interests, Ken Cuccinelli's positive vision and substantive plans to grow the economy and ease burdens on middle class families are gaining momentum," LaCivita added.
Most previous polls had McAuliffe leading between 5 and 15 points, according to Real Clear Politics. Rasmussen Reports gave the Democrat candidate a spread of 17 points – 50 percent to 33 percent – last Sunday. Real Clear Politics' average gives McAuliffe an 8.8 point lead.
This poll even represents an increase from a Washington Post report issued on Monday that put McAuliffe at 51 percent to Cuccinelli's 39 percent – a 12 point lead. A Roanoke College poll released Wednesday found the Democrat ahead 46 percent to 31 percent, with a whopping 14 percent of voters undecided. Nevertheless, the most recent data comes from Quinnipiac, which gathered responses through Monday.
The Quinnipiac poll shows the two candidates nearly neck-and-neck. It also found third party candidate Sarvis gaining 9 percent. Nationally, however, "third-party candidates often lose support in the end as voters enter the voting booth and back someone they consider the lesser of two evils," explained Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
In Virginia's governor races, no third party candidate has ever taken over 2 percent of the vote, despite some ranking as high as 12 percent in pre-election polls. Now that Cuccinelli has made the race closer, will libertarians grit their teeth and vote for "the lesser of two evils?" If so, this poll indicates their votes could decide the election.
Early in the race and leading up to the election, McAuliffe has outspent his opponent by a nearly two-to-one margin. A report from National Review online showed Cuccinelli having spent $4,814,779 while the Democrat spent $9,845,150 in TV ads. The increase came early on, with a boost starting in the week of August 12 and lasting until the week of September 2.
As a result of outspending his main opponent, McAuliffe has been able to get the message out that Cuccinelli is "too extreme" for Virginia, especially on social issues. "Mainstream Virginians continue to side with Terry's commonsense policies to grow the economy and his commitment to working in a bipartisan way to create jobs in the commonwealth over Ken Cuccinelli's extreme tea party agenda," McAuliffe spokeswoman Rachel Thomas told the Richmond Times Dispatch earlier on Wednesday.
But political fact-checking website PolitiFact found McAuliffe ads less trustworthy than those promoting Cuccinelli, and a National Review report argued that the Cuccinelli ads PolitiFact attacked were not as offensive as McAuliffe's.
Besides ad money, Politico reported Tuesday that the black vote may prove another key facet of this election. "The challenge is particularly pronounced for McAuliffe and blacks, who make up about a fifth of the electorate and are often the difference between victory and defeat for a Democrat running statewide in the commonwealth," Politico's James Hohmann explained, citing Mitt Romney's white vote lead countered by Obama's black majority, which led the president to victory in this battleground state. But black voter turnout drops during years without a presidential election, the report noted.