More Virginia voters think the political philosophy of Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II is “about right” than say the same about his opponent in the governor’s race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, according to a new poll that challenges criticism among Democrats — and some Republicans — that the attorney general’s conservative views are too extreme for him to lead Virginia.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday shows 32 percent of voters saying Mr. Cuccinelli’s political philosophy is “about right,” while 29 percent say he is too conservative. Five percent of respondents said he is too liberal, while 33 percent did not have an opinion.
Mr. McAuliffe, who has attempted to portray himself as the more politically mainstream candidate, scored 29 percent of voters who said his political philosophy was “about right,” compared to 21 percent who said he is too liberal. Four percent of voters said he is too conservative, while nearly half — 45 percent —don’t have an opinion.
“There are a lot of people in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in Virginia who think he’s too conservative,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said of Mr. Cuccinelli. “Virginia voters don’t see him that way.”
Mr. Brown said it would not be surprising to see Mr. McAuliffe try to pin the ideologue label on Mr. Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite who during his time as the state’s top law enforcement officer has waged high-profile skirmishes against what he sees as federal overreach in areas such as President Obama’s health care reform law and some Environmental Protection Agency regulations. So far, Mr. Brown said, the label has not stuck.
Overall, Mr. Cuccinelli held a slight edge, 40 percent to 38 percent, over Mr. McAuliffe — results within the margin of error and consistent with other recent polls. Neither candidate seems to be able to claim a clear benefit from Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s March 12 announcement that he would not mount a third-party bid. The survey, of 1,098 registered voters using interviewers to call land lines and cellphones, was conducted March 20 to 25 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
The poll found that 45 percent of respondents said they approve of the job Mr. Cuccinelli is doing as attorney general, while 27 percent said they disapprove. But with the election less than eight months away, solid numbers of voters are still unfamiliar with Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. McAuliffe, a longtime fundraiser for former President Bill Clinton and a former head of the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. McAuliffe’s has a favorability rating of 20 percent. Sixteen percent view him unfavorably and 63 percent are too unfamiliar with him to have an opinion.
Mr. Cuccinelli’s favorability rating is 30 percent compared with 24 percent who view him unfavorably and 44 percent who say they don’t know enough about him.
Stephen Farnsworth, at political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said it’s still early in the race but that it “speaks volumes” that such a high number of respondents have no opinion of Mr. Cuccinelli.
“Ken Cuccinelli is probably the best known attorney general in the country … and still half the voters in the state aren’t sure what to make of him,” he said.
Mr. Farnsworth said Virginia likely will see a long slog of a campaign during which the candidates duel to define themselves and their opponents.
“The real question is what the favorable-unfavorable numbers look like in October,” Mr. Farnsworth said.
The Cuccinelli campaign declined to comment on the poll, while the McAuliffe campaign forwarded questions to the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Brian Coy, a spokesman for the state party, said of Mr. Cuccinelli there is “much more for Virginia voters to learn about how extreme his agenda truly is.”