Good News For Democrats In Virginia?


The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, who should be counted among the best political analysts in the business especially when it comes to Virginia, has named Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe as the current favorite in the race for Virginia Governor:

As the calendar turns to September, the nation’s marquee race in 2013 is coming into focus: Terry McAuliffe (D) now has an edge over Ken Cuccinelli (R) in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and we’re changing our rating in the contest from toss-up to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

The decision is based on several factors, all of which seem to suggest that the former Democratic National Committee chairman is leading the state attorney general.

McAuliffe has managed to make the prospect of a Governor Cuccinelli seem scary, while Cuccinelli has “only” succeeded in making McAuliffe look like a run-of-the-mill, self-interested wealthy political hack. In this wholly negative race, that sad distinction matters.

What’s kept Cuccinelli from painting McAuliffe in even less favorable colors? The Bob McDonnell scandal (to which Cuccinelli is connected by the GOP party label and gifts from the same supplicant), his substantially lesser fundraising, E.W. Jackson’s nomination for lieutenant governor, and the defection of a sizable number of moderate Republicans led by the lieutenant governor he left as road kill, Bill Bolling.

As Sabato notes, the polls over the summer have been slowly moving in McAuliffe’s favor:

Recent polling from Quinnipiac shows the McAuliffe up 48%-42% over Cuccinelli, and an internal poll from the Democratic Party of Virginia showed a similar margin (48%-44%). That is backed up by other polling. The respected HuffPost Pollster average shows McAuliffe up by eight points (45.1% to 37.1%). That average also shows Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian candidate, at 9.5%. Despite the damaged nature of both major-party nominees, it would be surprising if Sarvis maintained that level of support — third-party candidates often poll much better than they actually perform on Election Day. Aside from Henry Howell’s independent run in 1973 (49.3%), no independent or third-party gubernatorial candidate has done better than Russ Potts’ 2.2% in 2005 in the modern era of Virginia politics (dating back to the start of true two-party competition in 1969).

Pollster’s chart of the race shows how these polls have slowly shifted in McAuliffe’s favor as well:



The Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is currently at 9.5% in the Pollster average, while McAuliffe is at 45.1% and Cuccinelli is at 37.1%. This leaves some 8.3% of the respondents undecided at the moment, although it’s probably that at least some portion of that “undecided” vote is saying they support Sarvis simply because he isn’t one of the two major party candidates. Many of these people will likely end up voting for either McAuliffe or Cuccinelli in November.

In reality, of course, most Virginia voters have not been paying much attention to this race over the summer, and there’s really only been limited television advertising by either of the two candidates. That’s likely to change after Labor Day when the campaign goes into full gear. At the moment, though, it looks like Democrats have the upper hand in this election.

FILED UNDER: 2013 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    If this holds true, it would be the first time Virginia voted for a governor of the same party as the sitting President since the 1970’s. For that matter, New Jersey, which is also having a Governor’s race, has not elected elected a governor of the same party as the sitting President since the 1980’s (and looks exceedingly likely to keep the streak intact). This says something about how people vote for offices lower than the President.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Cuccinelli is probably too extreme for Virginia himself but E.W. Jackson is a complete nutcase. If the Democrats had run a decent candidate it wouldn’t even be close.

  3. Anderson says:

    Like we said in Louisiana back in 1991, “Vote for the Crook – It’s Important.”

  4. ernieyeball says:

    In this wholly negative race, that sad distinction matters.

    The summer of 1956 brought out Presidential Election campaign trucks with loudspeakers and posters cruising Bacus Rd. in Webster, NY. A suburb of Rochester.
    As they drove down the street music played and us kids scooped up the candy that was flying off the back of the truck as thick as a January snowstorm off Lake Ontario.

    All I remember coming away from this besides mandatory extra tooth brushing was a tune we would sing in September as we waited for the School Bus to take us to the 5th grade.

    “Whistle While You Work.
    Stevenson’s a Jerk!
    Eisenhower’s Got the Power
    Stevenson Won’t Work!”

    Early exposure to negative campaining and political extortion!

  5. @ernieyeball:

    Yes, negative campaigning works but, the interesting thing in Virginia is that McAuliffe’s surge has occurred even though his campaign has largely held back on the best of the negative campaigning they could do against Cuccinelli.

    I am assuming they’re saving that for the two month sprint that starts this coming Tuesday.

  6. ernieyeball says:

    I am assuming they’re saving that for the two month sprint that starts this coming Tuesday.

    Cynic or realist or both?