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Democrat Terry McAuliffe now leads his Republican counterpart Ken Cuccinelli by 5 percentage points in the Virginia gubernatorial race, according to two recent polls. A Washington Post-Abt SRBI poll shows McAuliffe with a 49-44 percent lead over Cuccinelli; an NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll also has McAuliffe leading by 5 percent, with a 43 to 38 percent lead.

McAuliffe owes his rising numbers in large part to his support among Virginia women, who favor McAuliffe by a double-digit margin — this has been the case throughout the summer. Cuccinelli enjoys the support of a majority of Virginia men, but by a smaller margin. Robert Sarvis, the libertarian third-party candidate, also complicates Cuccinelli’s path to the governor’s mansion. When Sarvis’ numbers are included in the Washington Post poll, McAuliffe’s lead increases to 8 points, 47 to 39 percent.

Virginia voters side with McAuliffe’s stance on social issues. Cuccinelli’s staunch social conservatism has come under constant attack by McAuliffe, which seems to have resonated with voters: 48 percent of registered voters trust McAuliffe to do a better job handling “issues of special concern to women,” while just 25 percent believe the same of Cuccinelli.

Virginians, it seems, have also rejected Cuccinelli’s conservative stance on abortion — 43 percent of registered voters believe McAuliffe will do a better job handling abortion, while 31 percent believe Cuccinelli will.

The McAuliffe campaign, for one, is convinced Cuccinelli’s social agenda has backfired on the Republican candidate. “Virginians are siding with Terry McAuliffe’s mainstream business approach over Ken Cuccinelli’s extreme ideological agenda,” McAuliffe spokesperson Josh Schwerin said in a statement. “The more voters learn about Ken Cuccinelli’s extreme record, the more concerned they are.”

Cuccinelli’s outspoken social conservatism has also cost him among large Republican donors. “Mr. Cuccinelli’s very hard stance on some of the social issues is a concern for me,” Bruce L. Thompson, Virginia businessman and donor to current Republican governor Bob McDonnell, told Bloomberg. “I believe personally in a woman’s right to choose, but I also think from an economic development standpoint, we’re trying to attract businesses from other areas of the country, and we’re telling women that we’re going to regulate the way that they run their life? I just don’t think we can be exclusionary when it comes to women.”

These members of the Virginia Republican base that have been shaken by Cuccinelli’s stance on social issues may be turning to Sarvis — the libertarian candidate captures 15 percent of Virginia independents, who showed up in droves for McDonnell in the last gubernatorial election. In 2009, McDonnell received 66 percent of the independent vote, which helped carry him to victory. Cuccinelli, in contrast, enjoys just 34 percent support among independent voters.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

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