Six months before Virginia voters choose a new governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a slight advantage over his Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli, a poll released Thursday showed.
McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and major party fundraiser, had the support of 43% of registered voters in the Quinnipiac University survey, while Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli was at 38%. That margin was just inside the poll's sampling error.
Independents are split - 38% support Cuccinelli and 37% back McAuliffe.
And while both candidates have begun airing television spots detailing their résumés, both remain largely unknown to voters. Sixty percent said they didn't know enough about McAuliffe to form an opinion, while 42% said they weren't familiar enough with Cuccinelli - the commonwealth's attorney general - to determine a favorable or unfavorable view.
"At this point, neither candidate sets the electorate's heart atwitter," said Peter Brown, the assistant director of Quinnipiac's polling institute. "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."
The tight race indicated in Thursday's poll closely mimics other recent surveys of Virginia voters. An NBC/Marist poll released earlier this month showed McAuliffe with a slight 43%-41% advantage over Cuccinelli among registered voters, though Cuccinelli was ahead 45%-42% among likely voters. Both those margins were within the sampling error.
Another poll - this one from the Washington Post - had Cuccinelli ahead by five percentage points among all Virginia voters. The Republican candidate's lead widened to ten points when polling those who said they're certain to vote in November.
The poll from Quinnipiac surveyed only registered voters. In it, 22% said McAuliffe was too liberal to become governor, while 28% said Cuccinelli was too conservative.
The survey was conducted by telephone from May 8-11, and 1,286 registered voters were polled. The sampling error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states to conduct governor's elections in the November following a presidential election year.