WASHINGTON - In just over six weeks, voters in Virginia will have to choose a new governor in what could be the most expensive race in the state's history, with the candidates having already raised almost $30 million.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll has Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli running just a few percentage points apart as they approach a key debate before the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce that will be broadcast on TV live on Wednesday night. With the margin of error factored in, the race is a statistical dead heat.
"The only way to look at this election is that it is a process of elimination election," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"Generally speaking, people are going to be voting for a particular candidate because they have eliminated the other one," Sabato said.
Wednesday's debate is only the second one of the campaign between the two candidates and the first one in voter-rich Northern Virginia. There is one more scheduled Oct. 24 on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg.
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have raised more than $29.8 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. McAuliffe has raised $18.4 million, while Cuccinelli has raised $11.3 million, Virginia Public Access Project reports.
Professor Steve Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington says before the election is over, it could set a record for campaign spending in the state. In the 2005 gubernatorial race between Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine, the candidates spent $46.7 million. R. Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell in 2009 spent about $41 million.
"The second way that this is going to set a record in the percentage of ads that are so negative," Farnsworth said.
Farnsworth predicts a bombardment of ads on TV and radio in the last six weeks.
Both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have faced questions about their ethics during the campaign.
Cuccinelli has donated $18,000 to charity, the value of gifts he received from Star Scientific businessman Jonnie Williams.
McAuliffe has faced continued questions about GreenTech, an electric car company that he helped found and charges that he used undue influence to get special visas for Chinese investors.
Sabato says both of those issues hang over the candidates, and so does the probe of incumbent Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell that involves gifts from Williams.
"Hanging out there is what's going to happen to Governor McDonnell. Will that break before the election? Nobody knows," said Sabato.
Virginia's election, which will select the lieutenant governor, attorney general and members of the House of Delegates, will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 4.
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