Plea in chef case could tighten race for Va. governor

WASHINGTON – There’s just a few weeks to go in the campaign for governor in Virginia and every new poll and revelation could have a dramatic impact.

If you average out the polls over the last few months, it appears that Democrat Terry McAuliffe has opened up a bit of a lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli. But Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says voters should not read too much into the polls.

“Terry McAuliffe on average is up about six points over Cuccinelli of the last 12 surveys,” says Sabato. “But, things can change quickly. We have debates coming up.”

Sabato’s comments came prior to the release of The Roanoke College Poll Thursday, which showed McAuliffe with a statistically insignificant lead — 35 to 33 percent — over Cuccinelli.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows McAuliffe favored by 44 percent of 1,005 likely voters. Cuccinelli garnered 41 percent and Libertarian Robert Sarvis was favored by 7 percent of likely voters.

The last independent Virginia gubernatorial candidate, former state Sen. Russ Potts, won just 2 percent of the vote in 2005.

However, Sabato says Sarvis could play significantly with one key voting group.

“He’s polling 14 percent among Independents,” Sabato says.

One factor that could tighten the race even further is a plea agreement announced Wednesday in the embezzlement case against the former chef of the Executive Mansion, Todd Schneider.

“That chef, spilling out secrets about the Republican governor and his family could not possibly have helped Cuccinelli and it would have happened just before the election,” says Sabato of Schneider’s trial, which was set to begin in mid October.

Instead of going to trial, Schneider pleaded no contest Wednesday to two counts of stealing food from the first family’s kitchen. He was sentenced to two six-month terms in jail but the sentence was suspended. Also, he must pay back $2,300 to the state.

The investigation into Schneider’s behavior that embroiled outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell in a scandal involving unreported gifts he and his family received from businessman Jonnie Williams.

Cuccinelli received gifts from the same businessman and withdrew his office’s involvement from Schneider’s case.

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