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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2019

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Local Politics: University poll shows McAuliffe with lead in Gov. Race


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe currently leads the race with 42 percent of Virginia voters’ support, compared to Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who currently holds support from 35 percent, according to a recent poll completed by the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies.

Both campaigns dominate the airwaves with critical attack ads, which have led to some of the most interesting information gathered in the poll, according to Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies.

“To me, the most important finding is the positive and negative evaluations of the candidates. For Cuccinelli, he was unfavorable 52 percent to a favorable 36 percent, whereas for McAuliffe, it was favorable 38 percent, unfavorable 35 percent,” said Farnsworth.

Farnsworth touches on the issues with negative ratings and attack advertising.

“The problem is when a candidate already has a pretty negative rating, it’s really hard to engage in a lot of attack advertising because the risk of a backlash,” said Farnsworth. “We have found that the very negative advertising by McAuliffe has found its mark, especially with women voters that are concerned about Cuccinelli.”

The results came as good news for the Young Democrats club on campus.

“I know that the Democrats were really excited about the results of the survey. It shows that the campaign work that Terry is doing is really paying off,” said Julia Davis, the Young Democrat’s publicity coordinator.

While some Democrats think that polls placing McAuliffe in the lead will ensure the outcome of the election, others disagree.

“A month is a lifetime in politics, a lot can change in an instant, and so to assume a month ahead of time that the election is over is a really reckless assumption,” said Farnsworth.

Maxwell Reinhardt, junior history major and chairman of the College Republicans, also believes that the results are likely to change.

“McAuliffe shouldn’t start writing his victory speech because of one poll. According to it, 10 percent are supporting Robert Sarvis, the libertarian candidate. Come election day, those people will probably swallow some salt water and cast their vote for Cuccinelli,” said Reinhardt.

Sarvis seems to be a candidate with a chance.

“Sarvis is clearly a none of the above candidate. People who don’t even know who he is, are supporting him for Governor, in part because he’s not Terry McAuliffe and in part because he’s not Ken Cuccinelli,” said Farnsworth.

According to Farnsworth, one challenge ahead for Sarvis is whether or not he will be invited to take part in the next gubernatorial debate, which will take place on Oct. 24 at Virginia Tech’s Haymarket Theater.

Two major issues are sure to affect the coming weeks of the campaigns are the effects of the government shutdown and the current legal scandal surrounding current Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

A related poll that the Center published looks at voter concerns surrounding McDonnell’s legal troubles. It polled whether or not McDonnell or the taxpayers should pay for his legal fees for the scandals involving Star Scientific and McDonnell’s former chef.

The poll showed overwhelming support from Virginia voters that McDonnell should be responsible for paying his own legal fees, which currently total $240,000.

“There are very few things in American politics where you see a split that’s 85 percent to 5 percent,” said Farnsworth.

The legal proceedings with McDonnell are also impacting political strategy in this race.

While McAuliffe used the support of former Democratic Virginia Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in campaign commercials and events, Cuccinelli is not in a position where McDonnell’s support would be beneficial for him in the race, according to Farnsworth.

With many of the government workers furloughed hailing from Virginia, the government shutdown is a huge issue in the race.

“I think the biggest problem Ken Cuccinelli faces right now has nothing to do with anything he’s done; it has to do with the federal government shutdown. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia who depend on the federal government for their employment,” said Farnsworth, citing the large amount of blame that has been placed on the Republican Party in light of the shutdown.

For Davis and other Young Democrats, they see the shutdown as something that will help McAuliffe and other Democrats in this election cycle.

“I think it is showing Democrats in a better light,” said Davis. “We also think that it’s shedding more light on politics, and making people realize that this is an important election to go out and vote.”

Reinhardt does not believe that the shutdown will affect Cuccinelli.

“I think the voters are smart enough to distinguish what goes on in Washington and what goes on in Virginia,” said Reinhardt.