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New fundraising, poll numbers show tight Va. gubernatorial race

New fundraising numbers and a pair of polls on the Virginia gubernatorial race released in the last two weeks show a tight contest between presumed candidates Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe.

Cuccinelli, who announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination in 2011, reported raising $1.07 million in the second half of 2012. McAuliffe, who announced his bid in November 2012, reported raising $1.15 million in December 2012 alone. Cuccinelli still has more cash on hand than McAuliffe, but the margin is decreasing rapidly.

Center of Politics Director Larry Sabato said in an email that although fundraising may be important, it is not the only thing at play.

“No one will be surprised if McAuliffe outraises Cuccinelli,” Sabato said. “That’s McAuliffe’s specialty. He raised over $8 million to run for governor four years ago, but he lost by 23 percent in a party primary. So money obviously isn’t everything.”

McAuliffe has previously been recognized for his fundraising abilities, but despite outraising his two opponents prior to the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary, McAuliffe eventually lost the bid to Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Albemarle). McAuliffe spokesperson Josh Schwerin said the campaign was enthusiastic about this year’s numbers.

“With more than 1400 individual donors, it shows there is a broad range of support for Terry,” Schwerin said. “What Virginians are looking for is someone who is avoiding ideological talk and focusing on the economy and widespread issues. The support is a good sign.”

The Cuccinelli campaign raised about an additional $1 million in the first half of 2012 and has received contributions from 8,153 total donors since the campaign began — a mark significantly higher than that reached by the McAuliffe campaign.

“In the last year, Ken’s campaign for governor has displayed tremendous grassroots strength and support,” Cuccinelli campaign manager Dave Rexrode said in a press release. “Having such a broad base of support this early in the campaign is impressive and will be essential for victory this fall.”

The Cuccinelli campaign had to stop fundraising last Wednesday for the 45-day Virginia General Assembly session, a requirement for all candidates currently holding public office.

Given the results of last November’s election, money did appear to be a deciding factor in races all across the state. In every Congressional race and the Senate race, the candidate who raised the most money won the election.

Two polling agencies, Quinnipiac Polling and Public Policy Polling have shown McAuliffe with a slight, but likely insignificant lead over Cuccinelli. Quinnipiac showed McAuliffe ahead 40-39 with 18 percent undecided, with a margin of error of 2.9 percent. Public Policy Polling showed McAuliffe ahead 46-41 with a 3.8 percent error margin.

“You can rely on a coin flip about as accurately as polls a year out,” Sabato said. “Most polls show the race close, with a decided lack of enthusiasm for these two candidates outside their party base.”

Both polls found that name recognition appeared to be an issue for each candidate, but Schwerin said the campaign was not worried.

“Name recognition is something that will come with time,” Schwerin said. “Terry is travelling all around the state of Virginia, and by the election I have no doubt that people will know he is someone looking for mainstream solutions for the economy.”

Cuccinelli officially became the only Republican candidate in the race Monday evening when the deadline to announce candidacy set by the Virginia GOP passed. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling withdrew himself from consideration for the Republican nomination last year, but he is considering running as an independent.

“When Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is added as a possible independent candidate — he’ll decide in March — then both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe drop to 34 percent each [in the Quinnipiac Poll],” Sabato said. “Bolling is generally measured in the teens right now. No one knows whether he will run.”

Because Bolling has been elected as a Republican, many expect he would take significantly more votes away from Cuccinelli than the Democratic nominee. McAuliffe is currently the only Democrat on the ballot for June’s primary, but candidates have until March 28 to file. Former U.S. representative Tom Perriello, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, and state senator Chap Petersen have said they will not run.