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Polls Show Terry McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli In Close Race For Virginia Governor

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Terry McAuliffe, seen here at the Syracuse-Louisville basketball game on March 2, 2013, is battling Ken Cuccinelli to become Virginia's next governor. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli) | AP

Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds a 5-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race, according to a poll released Thursday.

The Quinnipiac poll finds McAuliffe ahead by 43 percent to 38 percent among registered voters -- the best numbers he's had since January.

Two surveys released earlier this month found Cuccinelli winning among a narrower subset of Virginia voters, those considered likely to turn out on Election Day. The NBC/Marist poll put McAuliffe ahead 2 points among registered voters, but Cuccinelli leading by 3 points among likely voters. The Washington Post found Cuccinelli leading by 5 points among all voters and 10 points among likely voters.

The numbers suggest that Democrats face the greater turnout problem: Young and minority voters, who support McAuliffe, are less likely to vote in off-year elections.

It's early in the race, however, and few Virginians are paying much attention.

In the Quinnipiac survey, 60 percent of voters said they hadn't heard enough about McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic Party, to have an opinion on him, and 42 percent said the same of Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general. Neither percentage has budged much since November, even as the candidates ramp up their campaigns.

"At this point, neither candidate sets the electorate's heart atwitter," Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in the poll release. "But we are starting to see the beginning of the television advertising campaign by the two candidates, and presumably those ads will begin to introduce the candidates to the voters."

In the meantime, it's probably too soon to draw any hard conclusions. As The Guardian's Harry Enten notes, polling at this stage in 2009 largely underestimated Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's 17-point win.

HuffPost Pollster's average, which combines all publicly available polling, finds the two gubernatorial candidates effectively tied at just under 43 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,286 registered Virginia voters by phone between May 8 and May 13.

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