More Virginia voters by a wide margin say they will vote for gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe or Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II than say they like them, according to poll results released Wednesday amid an uncharacteristically toxic campaign.
Mr. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, claimed a 48 percent to 42 percent lead over Mr. Cuccinelli, the state’s Republican attorney general, in the Quinnipiac University survey. But just 34 percent of respondents said they view the Democrat favorably while only 35 percent said the same of the Republican.
The results provide a contrast to recent gubernatorial contests in the genteel Old Dominion in which candidates from both parties had favorability ratings far above their poll numbers at this stage in the race.
Thirty-three percent of those polled said they view Mr. McAuliffe unfavorably, while 41 percent have a similar opinion of Mr. Cuccinelli.
“The campaign has been light on issues and big on personalities, and it is in the area of personal characteristics that McAuliffe has a small edge,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The poll, conducted Aug. 14-19 of 1,129 likely voters, is still among the rare survey to show either candidate with a lead significantly outside the margin of error. It was the first Quinnipiac poll of Virginia’s 2013 campaign season to measure likely voters as opposed to registered voters and carried a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
Thirty percent of respondents in the poll were self-identified Democrats, compared with 23 percent who said they were Republicans and 39 percent who told pollsters they were independents.
The party breakdown appears to more closely mirror exit polls during presidential election years in 2012 and 2008 — when Virginia voters turned out in historic proportions to elect Democrat Barack Obama — than it does 2009, when the Republican Bob McDonnell won the governor’s mansion with more modest participation at the polls.
The survey was conducted after a contentious first face-to-face debate July 22 and as scandals involving each candidate seem to be escalating.
Mr. Brown said the ongoing scandal involving wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and gifts and loans he has given to Virginia’s first family also played a part in the numbers.
“It seems obvious that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s political troubles are hurting fellow Republican Cuccinelli,” he said. “Guilt by association may not be fair, but it sure is politically powerful. Trust matters, and at this point neither man is doing all that well in that category.”
Despite the historically fierce independence of Virginia’s electorate — the governor has been chosen from the opposite party as the president since 1977 — the contest ultimately might be fought not at the center of the spectrum among independent and moderate voters but on the edges, where each campaign will work to turn out the unenthusiastic members of its base.
Perhaps as a result, a daily — and sometimes hourly — barrage of attacks has not relented this time.
Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign has repeatedly called on Mr. Cuccinelli to return approximately $18,000 worth of gifts from Mr. Williams, CEO of nutritional supplement company Star Scientific Inc.
Mr. Cuccinelli forgot to disclose some of the gifts, but an independent prosecutor’s report said he did not violate any state laws.
The state inspector general also is looking into whether a deputy of Mr. Cuccinelli’s improperly intervened in a case involving farmers in the southwestern part of the state trying to claim royalties from a natural gas company that has donated to the Republican’s campaign.
Mr. Cuccinelli has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Republicans have hammered Mr. McAuliffe over GreenTech Automotive Inc., a car company he co-founded that is under investigation by two federal agencies and has fallen woefully short of projected production and employment levels.
The McAuliffe campaign, as has been customary, was quiet about the poll numbers Wednesday. A Cuccinelli spokeswoman said the race was “extremely close and will remain as such.”
“At the end of the day, Ken Cuccinelli’s positive vision and substantive plans for Virginia’s future, compared to Terry McAuliffe’s flawed record as a failed job creator and political influence peddler, will carry the attorney general to victory,” spokeswoman Anna Nix said.