Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat businessman Terry McAuliffe remain in a statistical tie in the race for governor, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
Cuccinelli drew 40 percent of support to McAuliffe's 38 percent in the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points and was conducted by telephone interview with 1,098 registered voters March 20-25.
The results are statistically the same as the previous two Quinnipiac polls pitting the candidates in a head-to head race. The survey suggests the decision earlier in the month by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to drop consideration of an independent bid for governor the week before the poll did not have a significant impact on voter preferences in a two-way contest.
The poll also found that Gov. Bob McDonnell's popularity rating remains relatively the same, with a 53 percent favorability and 26 percent unfavorability, compared with his 53 percent and 28 percent ratings in Quinnipiac's Feb. 20 survey.
In the race for governor, the poll also addresses the perceived weaknesses of each candidate as defined by the other side -- namely that Cuccinelli is a socially conservative ideologue out of touch with mainstream Virginia, while McAuliffe is a Washington insider who lacks governing experience and political roots in the state.
The poll found that Cuccinelli, who served two terms in the Virginia Senate before becoming attorney general in 2010, is viewed to have better experience than McAuliffe, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2009 and previously served as Democratic National Committee chairman and helped elect President Bill Clinton.
Cuccinelli is viewed to have the right experience for the job by a margin of 44 percent to 22 percent, while McAuliffe registered 28 percent and 23 percent.
But the survey also revealed that voters perceive Cuccinelli, a social conservative and tea party favorite who has made headlines suing the federal government and challenging abortion, climate change regulations and gay rights, as more ideologically driven than McAuliffe, the green energy entrepreneur and deep-pocketed Democratic fundraiser.
According to the survey, 32 percent say Cuccinelli's political philosophy is about right while 29 percent say he is too conservative. The poll found 29 percent say McAuliffe's philosophy is about right while 21 percent say he is too liberal. Large swaths of voters said they know too little about either man to form an opinion.
At this point in the race, "the general public does not see the GOP candidate as a far-right kind of guy as some both inside and outside the Republican Party have suggested," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "It would not be surprising to see McAuliffe try to pin the ideologue label on Cuccinelli but, as of now, the label does not stick."
Still, both remain relatively unknown to Virginia voters, with 44 percent saying they do not know enough about Cuccinelli, who lives in Prince William County, to make a decision, and 63 percent saying they do not know enough about McAuliffe, a resident of McLean.
"Neither candidate for governor is that well-known to voters, although Cuccinelli has a small edge in that department," Brown said. "Because of their relatively low profiles at this point, the horse race numbers pretty much reflect a generic Democratic-Republican race."
Voters are decided on the most important issue of the campaign, however, with 37 percent saying it is the economy, with 19 percent citing education and 15 percent referring to taxes.
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