Is this the Death Knell for Cuccinelli We’re Hearing?

The Washington Post’s latest survey portends good news for Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and the rest of his ticket, and signals what could be the figurative death knell for Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the state’s gubernatorial contest. All of the various pollsters who have been studying the Virginia governor’s race will be releasing their final numbers in the next few days, meaning we will be exposed to a continual stream of Virginia political data.

According to the Post figures (Oct. 24-27; 1,061 registered Virgnia voters; 762 likely Virginia voters) McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 51-39 percent, which is the largest Democratic lead recorded in any Virginia poll to date. Dozens of surveys have been conducted in the past eight weeks, reporting remarkably consistent results, with all of them posting McAuliffe to leads but within a five- to eight-point range.

The Post results are both believable and unsurprising. McAuliffe has overwhelmed Cuccinelli with late campaign advertising and continues to feature prominent Republicans around the state who have endorsed him over their own nominee. This has helped achieve McAuliffe’s goal of splitting the Republican base wide open, and thus exacerbate the rift between the Virginia conservative and moderate base Republicans.

According to the Post, the Cuccinelli collapse is likewise beginning to affect the rest of the ticket; in the lieutenant governor’s race, their data shows state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk/Virginia Beach) running ahead of Republican nominee E.W. Jackson by a 52-39 percent margin. In the attorney general’s race between two sitting state senators, in which Republican nominee Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) has led Mark Herring (D-Loudon County) by small margins for weeks, the Post forecasts a change here, too. The poll yields Herring a slight 49-46 percent advantage.

The Washington Post survey also underscores that McAuliffe’s success in this race is less due to voters’ positive feelings about him than their negative views toward Cuccinelli. Asking people who earlier said they intend to vote for McAuliffe: “is your vote more for McAuliffe or more against Cuccinelli”, only 34 percent of the McAuliffe voters said they are voting more for their candidate, while an overwhelming 64 percent admitted they are voting “more against” Cuccinelli. Conversely, when the same question is asked of Cuccinelli’s supporters, 50 percent said they were “more for” their candidate as opposed to the 44 percent who said they are “more against” McAuliffe.

While it does appear clear that McAuliffe is going to win this race, it also suggests that he could have a short honeymoon in office, since even a large segment of voters who are supporting him do not hold the Democratic nominee in particularly high esteem.

It is also highly likely that McAuliffe will be able to draw Sen. Northam into office with him; but will the trend turn into a sweep? All eyes are on Obenshain to see if he can establish himself as a virtual independent candidate, one not tied to the Cuccinelli ticket. The more he can distance himself at this point, the better Obenshain’s chances of reversing the trend. The same is true for Republican state Delegate incumbents and candidates as they strive to hold their seats in an unfavorable political climate. It is unlikely that the Democrats can muster enough of a wave to upend Republican control of the state House of Delegates, but it is conceivable that they will put a major dent in the party’s two-thirds majority margin.

State senators who have four-year terms are not on the ballot in 2013, but their majority could change – currently it is tied, 20-20 – in state Senate special elections, in the winner of the attorney general’s race, and in Sen. Northam’s seat should he be elected lieutenant governor. Election Day is Nov. 5. Stay tuned.

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