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Gender Gap Doesn't Budge In Virginia Governor's Race

Here's one takeaway from a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday: Republicans have their hands full if they hope to close the gender gap in the Virginia governor's race.

The poll of likely voters reports that Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a 6-percentage-point overall lead in his contest with Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

The survey put McAuliffe's lead among female voters, however, at twice that — 12 points. A prominent friend of the Clintons, McAuliffe is a businessman and political fundraiser who was once chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Cuccinelli is Virginia's attorney general.

Given the poll's margin of error of 2.9 percentage points, McAuliffe's lead is within the range of President Obama's Election Day 2012 performance with the state's female voters. According to exit polls, Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney by 9 percentage points in Virginia.

While the composition of the voters who turn out for a presidential race is typically different from those who turn out for an off-year governor's race, it probably doesn't inspire Republican confidence that women made up slightly more than half of the 2012 Election Day electorate.

Exit polls showed they were also more than half of the electorate for the last Virginia governor's election, in 2009.

That 2009 election, by the way, showed that a gender gap that favors Democrats isn't etched in stone; Gov. Bob McDonnell handily won the women's vote by 8 percentage points that year.

Virginia has a limit of one four-year term for governors, which prevented McDonnell from seeking another term. That may have proved a godsend for him, seeing as he's embroiled in an embarrassing scandal related to gifts he and his family accepted from a wealthy supporter with business interests in the state.

The poll had more promising news for McAuliffe on the gender front: He's essentially tied with Cuccinelli among male voters.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, told me in an interview: "You have to keep in mind that because of the polarization we have in society along race and gender, there's a path both parties use to win elections.

"It's kind of a formula. Democrats win when they break even with men and run up big leads with women. Republicans win when they break even with women and run up big leads with men. So this [Virginia governor's race] is the Democrats' way of winning elections these days. If they don't win big with women voters, they have a big problem."

Cuccinelli is likely hurt by the Republican Party's typical weakness with female voters, though his issue positions and actions probably haven't helped and have given his Democratic opponents something to work with.

For instance, Cuccinelli was one of only three state attorneys general who didn't sign a letter asking Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act. Virginia Democrats haven't let this go unnoticed.

Cuccinelli has also been one of Virginia's highest-profile anti-abortion opponents. That, too, has led McAuliffe's campaign and other Democrats to frame Cuccinelli as hostile to women.

Cuccinelli's campaign has fought back against these efforts. For instance, it has highlighted his role as a University of Virginia student in starting a public awareness campaign to fight sexual assaults.

Cuccinelli's campaign has also criticized McAuliffe for not joining other Democrats to demand that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resign after accusations by more than a dozen women that Filner made inappropriate and uninvited sexual advances toward them.

Judging by the continuing gender gap, however, none of this appears so far to be working for Cuccinelli.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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