McAuliffe stumbles on substance in Virginia; GOP stumbles to seize advantage

But Ken Cuccinelli lags in favorability, new polls show

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The campaign of Terry McAuliffe is getting tripped up in the stretch run of the race for Virginia governor over the Democrat’s perceived lack of substance on issues, but the unfavorable ratings of Republican Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II apparently have offset the stumbles, according to polling numbers released Monday.

Republicans, who for months have had only moderate success attacking the former Democratic National Committee chairman for his ties to a controversial and underperforming car company he co-founded, had seen poll numbers tighten amid skepticism about Mr. McAuliffe’s command of critical policy matters.

In recent days:

The Northern Virginia Technology Council’s political arm, TechPAC, endorsed Mr. Cuccinelli, and a subsequent news report indicated offered detailed responses in his interview with the group, while Mr. McAuliffe came across as ill-prepared and superficial.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, issued a blistering criticism that six weeks from Election Day, Mr. McAuliffe has yet to outline what he stands for.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch penned an editorial decrying Mr. McAuliffe’s “troubling lack of mastery and odd flippancy” on issues, concluding he “still isn’t ready for the office he seeks.”

In addition, The Washington Times reported last week that Mr. McAuliffe told supporters he would keep the state’s abortion clinics open by employing an executive power that officials in state government say does not exist.

Mr. Cuccinelli recently seized on the theme by releasing an ad called “Serious,” which highlights the technology council endorsement and the report in The Washington Post criticizing Mr. McAuliffe’s responses to the group.

The Cuccinelli ad juxtaposes text passages from the news report with images of Mr. McAuliffe from his days as chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. The video shows Mr. McAuliffe waving a bottle of alcohol and drinking shots from what was purported to be a bottle of rum during appearances on nationally televised programs.

The new GOP line of attack comes ahead of a televised face-to-face debate between the candidates scheduled for Wednesday in McLean and after a week of tightening poll numbers.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday had Mr. McAuliffe leading Mr. Cuccinelli among likely voters, 44 percent to 41 percent. Mr. McAuliffe led in a similar poll last month by double that margin, 48 percent to 42 percent. Meanwhile, 58 percent of voters say Mr. Cuccinelli has the right experience to be governor, compared with 47 percent for Mr. McAuliffe.

But two polls released Monday reversed those trends, showing Mr. McAuliffe leading by 8 percentage points and by 5 percentage points, both gaps greater than the margin of error and typical of Mr. McAuliffe’s earlier leads. He is ahead of Mr. Cuccinelli 47 percent to 39 percent among likely voters in a Washington Post-Abt SRBI poll, with Libertarian Robert Sarvis taking 10 percent of the vote. An NBC4/NBC/Marist poll gives Mr. McAuliffe a 5-point edge among likely voters at 43 percent to 38 percent, with Mr. Sarvis taking 8 percent.

By contrast, the latest Post poll, published May 4, had Mr. Cuccinelli up by 10 percentage points and the previous Marist poll, also released in May, had the Republican up by 3 points.

Where Mr. McAuliffe holds an even greater edge is in favorability — something with which the Democratic and Republican candidates have both struggled.

Forty-eight percent of registered voters in the Post poll view him favorably, compared with 36 percent who view him unfavorably. Mr. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has a 40 percent to 47 percent favorable-unfavorable split.

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