On Thursday, Breitbart News was exclusively invited to observe a two-panel focus group of Virginia voters discussing, among other issues, the upcoming race for Governor. The groups were split, one consisting of lean GOP voters, the other of independents. Surprisingly, both came to the same conclusion, as best explained by a liberal female participant, “The more I learn about Terry, the less I like him. The more I learn about Ken [Cuccinelli], the more I like him.”
The two groups were made up of politically engaged and news-conscious voters. While one group generally consisted of GOP voters, they were not hard conservatives and had differing views on a variety of issues. The group of independents covered the ideological spectrum. After giving initial impressions of the race, each group was shown a variety of ads from each campaign, both positive and negative.
The best received ad with both groups, by an order of magnitude, was a positive ad for Cuccinelli chronicling how, as Attorney General, he personally led efforts to free an innocent man, Thomas Haynesworth, wrongly convicted of rape and jailed for 27 years. “The Attorney General’s job is not convictions,” Cuccinelli says in the ad. “It’s justice.”
After viewing ads from both campaigns, both positive and negative, the two focus groups moved towards Cuccinelli. Both groups said they felt McAuliffe was running the more negative and personal campaign. Both groups, especially Independents, expressed deep concerns about McAuliffe’s business dealings with China, which was a bit surprising.
At the end of the focus group, 70% of Independents said they support Cuccinelli. The focus groups distilled the Cuccinelli campaign’s challenge, but also its opportunity.
A recent poll by Purple Strategies gives a good preview of the race as it approaches its final stretch. McAuliffe comes out of the summer with a 7-point lead, but his support is only 43%. Among the critically important Independents, however, Cuccinelli leads by 12 points. Both men have low favorable ratings, although Cuccinelli (29%) edges McAuliffe (24%). Both also have relatively high unfavorables.
As the focus group on Thursday shows, however, Cuccinelli has a message that can move his favorables much higher. McAuliffe does not. Even his favorable ads fell flat with both groups. Many Washington pundits are quickly trying to call this race for McAuliffe, but they should listen to voters. Cuccinelli has a very real chance to surprise them in November.