Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli face off Wednesday night in a prime-time televised debate that could help sway undecided voters and ultimately determine the winner in what is still considered a competitive race.
The debate, hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and moderated by NBC Political Director Chuck Todd, is seen by pundits as a major test for both candidates, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports
"The few remaining undecided voters are likely to be swayed by issues and competence, not by partisanship," Stephen Farnsworth, a politics professor at the University of Mary Washington, told the Times-Dispatch. "The partisan voters made their minds up long ago."
Some believe, however, that the stakes are highest for Republican Cuccinelli, who has been consistently lagging in the polls. The surveys released this week show that Democrat McAuliffe has widened his lead over the attorney general among likely voters, with 47 percent support in a Washington Post poll compared to 39 percent for Cuccinelli. An NBC News poll
put McAuliffe at 43 percent compared to 38 percent for Cuccinelli.
"[Wednesday] night, Ken Cuccinelli has to be seen as a credible candidate, not a caricature," Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor, told The Washington Times
"And that's probably a bar that he should be able to achieve. But whether or not that'll get enough play and whether a statewide debate for governor has the kind of impact that a presidential debate can have is another question altogether," he said.
The debate is expected to cover a wide range of social and economic issues, according to Politico
, among them, Cuccinelli's controversial views against abortion and gay marriage, and McAuliffe's vague commitments to increase spending on a variety of government programs.
The candidates will also likely get grilled on some of the scandals that have dogged each of their campaigns.
Cuccinelli was linked to questions surrounding GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell after it emerged that both men had accepted extravagant gifts
from Star Scientific Chief Executive Jonnie Williams.
, meanwhile, has been plagued by a federal investigation into GreenTech, the electric car company he co-founded that critics charge was a scheme to attract investors to his political campaign.
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