As the stretch run for the Virginia gubernatorial election begins, Democrat Terry McAuliffe has established himself as a narrow but clear front-runner over state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican.
Cuccinelli’s strong TV ads attacking McAuliffe on jobs and China have not helped him transform the race, and the coverage surrounding GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell and the state’s first lady has diluted the impact of Cuccinelli’s message about McAuliffe’s ethics.
Some surveys, including recent polls released by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling and Emerson College Polling Society, show Libertarian Robert Sarvis drawing around 10 percent of the vote. But polling often exaggerates the strength of third-party and independent candidates. In the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial election, for example, three polls conducted two weeks before the election showed Independent Chris Daggett drawing as much as 20 percent of the vote. He finished with just under 6 percent. (See my October 2009 piece here.)
Of course, it is rare that both major party nominees have such huge flaws, as McAuliffe and Cuccinelli do. In any case, Sarvis is likely to get at least a few points, so the winning candidate in the race won’t need to get 50 percent of the vote.
Given McAuliffe’s advantage and Democrats’ success in defining Cuccinelli as unacceptable, the Democrat now deserves to be regarded as the favorite in the contest. Because of that, we are moving this race from a Tossup to Lean Democrat.