Government shutdown hurting Republicans in Virginia governor's race

Most voters don't blame Republican Ken Cuccinelli for the government shutdown. But among those who do, Cuccinelli takes a bigger hit than the Democrat. That's one reason he's losing. 

Steve Helber/AP/File
Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli answers questions after a political science class at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond last month.

As the Virginia governor’s race enters the home stretch, most voters don’t blame either Democrat Terry McAuliffe or Republican Ken Cuccinelli for the federal government shutdown, now in its third week. But among the 13 percent of Virginia voters who do, state Attorney General Cuccinelli is the big loser, according to a poll released Tuesday by Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

Among Virginians who assign blame, 47 percent point to Cuccinelli versus 7 percent who blame Mr. McAuliffe. Overall, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 46 percent to 39 percent, with 11 percent favoring Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, the poll reports. McAuliffe’s lead mirrors those in other polls tracking the Nov. 5 election, the only competitive governor’s race this fall – and one with important implications for Virginia, which has evolved from solid Republican to battleground in presidential politics.  

“The shutdown is definitely motivating some voters against Cuccinelli, who already had a tea party problem with independents and business-minded Republicans,” says Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy.

Virginia is home to many federal workers, and the partial shutdown could not have happened at a worse time for Cuccinelli, who was already struggling after stories broke about financial gifts he (and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell) accepted from a wealthy supporter. Cuccinelli has since donated the money to charity. Tea party-driven Republicans – his political home base – face the most blame for the shutdown nationally.  

If McAuliffe wins the race, he would put the governor’s chair in Democratic hands during the 2014 midterms and 2016 presidential race. Democratic control of Virginia’s bureaucracy and patronage appointments could help the party with fundraising and organization in the state.

McAuliffe has also struggled in the race with high negatives, owing to his image as a glad-handing businessman. He is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and has never held office. If McAuliffe wins with less than a majority of the vote, he will be the first Virginia governor to do so in almost 50 years.

McAuliffe will also have a big gender gap to thank. Some 51 percent of Virginia women say they plan to vote for McAuliffe, versus 37 percent for Cuccinelli, according to the Wason Center poll.

In addition, McAuliffe leads among independents, though his lead has dropped from 16 percent in the Wason Center’s poll released Oct. 8 to 6 percent now. Among Republicans, Cuccinelli is bleeding support, as 13 percent say they either plan to vote for the Libertarian Mr. Sarvis or remain undecided. The Wason Center surveyed 944 registered Virginia voters, including 753 likely voters, Oct. 8-13. 

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