RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The acrimonious campaign for Virginia governor neared its end Tuesday, capping a race driven by negative ads, unrelenting accusations of dodgy behavior and a deep rancor between rivals Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, planned to vote before dawn and visit campaign offices to help sustain his lead in the polling. His Republican competitor, meanwhile, scheduled his own campaign visits as he held out hope his conservative supporters would fuel a come-from-behind win.
A third candidate, libertarian Robert Sarvis, also was on the ballot.
Turnout was expected to be low — 40 percent was the figure both sides were using — and both candidates mustered their campaign organizations to find every last supporter. The campaign’s negative tilt turned many voters off, and strategists in both parties predicted the outcome could be decided by just a few thousand votes.
Richard Powell, a 60-year-old retired IT manager who lives in Norfolk, described himself as an independent who frequently votes for members of both parties. He said he cast his ballot for McAuliffe, although not because he’s particularly enthusiastic about him. He said he was more determined not to vote for Cuccinelli, who he said overreaches on a variety of medical issues.
Voters were barraged with a series of commercials that tied Cuccinelli to restricting abortions, and while Powell said the negative advertising “got to be sickening,” abortion rights played a factor in his vote.
“I’m not in favor of abortion — let’s put it that way — but I find that restricting abortion causes far more social harm than allowing abortion, so that was an issue for me,” he said.
The negative advertising aside, both candidates got help from some big names. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton made appearances for McAuliffe in the final weeks. President Barack Obama campaigned for him this weekend, Michelle Obama lent her voice to a radio advertisement and Vice President Joe Biden spoke to supporters on the eve of the election.
Cuccinelli, too, got high-profile backers to the state, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — all potential presidential contenders in 2016.
From the outset, the campaign shaped up as a barometer of voters’ moods and a test of whether a swing-voting state like Virginia could elect a tea party-style governor. As one of just two races for governor nationwide, political strategists eyed the race for clues about what would work for 2014′s midterm elections when control of Congress is up for grabs.