Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 23, 2013, 7:00pm

RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) -- Democrat Terry McAuliffe is leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the race to become Virginia's next governor, according to poll results released this week.

On Tuesday, Quinnipiac University released its first survey of state voters likely to head to the polls in November.

McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic Party, was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election.

He faces Cuccinelli, the state's current attorney general, in the Nov. 5 election.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, McAuliffe has a 48-42 percent lead over Cuccinelli.

Among its findings, the survey shows that honesty and trustworthiness are "extremely important" to most voters.

Voters are divided 39-36 percent on whether McAuliffe is honest and trustworthy, while voters are divided 42-43 percent on Cuccinelli.

Experience also is important to voters, the survey found.

Cuccinelli, they said, has the right kind of experience.

The poll also found that voters are concerned with the candidates' understanding of their problems.

Forty-four percent said such a quality is "extremely important." In comparing the two candidates, voters said, by a 51-37 percent margin, Cuccinelli does not understand.

"Democrat Terry McAuliffe is up 16 percentage points among voters who say empathy or understanding their problems is extremely important, while Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has a 23-point advantage among those who say the right kind of experience is extremely important," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"It's a toss-up among voters who say honesty is extremely important. Voters care more about empathy than experience, which helps explain McAuliffe's lead."

Brown continued, "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."

McAuliffe carries Democrats 92-1 percent while Cuccinelli wins Republicans 90-6 percent, the survey found. Independent voters are divided, with 42 percent for McAuliffe and 44 percent for Cuccinelli.

Voters have a 41-35 percent unfavorable view of Cuccinelli and disapprove slightly, 46-42 percent, of his performance as attorney general. They have a split 34-33 percent favorable/unfavorable opinion of McAuliffe, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, with less than three months until the election, the candidates for attorney general are unknown to the vast majority of voters, the Quinnipiac poll found.

Republican attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain gets an 82 percent "don't know enough," compared to 88 percent for Democrat Mark Herring.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,129 likely voters from Aug. 14-19, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. Live interviewers called land lines and cell phones.

In a separate, private poll commissioned by the state's Democratic Party -- of which the results also were released this week -- McAuliffe has a 48-44 percent lead over Cuccinelli.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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