National Journal’s Charlie Cook is one of the nation’s best-known political handicappers. On Thursday, he offered his latest take on the Virginia Governors race. While Cook notes that six of the seven most recent polls show Democrat Terry McAuliffe holding a steady lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, he says its “close to 50-50 race.”
Both campaigns have faced challenges this summer. Revelations about McAuliffe’s GreenTech automotive company and an investigation by the SEC, plagued the campaign for weeks. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, had to weather new allegations against current GOP Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell has admitted to inappropriately accepting gifts and loans from a major donor.
Details about McAuliffe’s alleged scandals, involving government incentive packages and visas for foreign investors, are complicated to follow. The Republican Governor’s wife enjoying expensive shopping sprees paid for by a donor whose business was under scrutiny by the state is much easier for voters to understand. More challenging for Cuccinelli is the fact that he also accepted small gifts from the same donor. His were a fraction of the amounts accepted by McDonnell, but the connection is troublesome for the campaign.
Recent surveys give McAuliffe a modest lead of 3-10 points. McAuliffe has aired a barrage of ads blasting Cuccinelli as “too conservative” throughout the summer and vastly outspent the Republican. Given this and the growing stench surrounding McDonnell, it is probably something of a miracle that Cuccinelli isn’t further behind.
“Still, this race seems far from over,” Cook writes. “Most Virginia voters aren’t yet focused on the contest, which isn’t unusual at this point in the cycle.” With Labor Day, and summer distractions behind us, voters in Virginia will pay increasing attention to the race. As the only competitive race this year in the country, many outside national groups will pour resources into Virginia in the coming weeks in support of both campaigns. McAuliffe’s spending advantage will likely narrow as the election nears.
As Cook notes, the summer pre-season to the election was something of a draw between the two campaigns. McAuliffe has a small edge. New revelations about his business dealings or Gov. McDonnell could still alter the race in either direction.