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Poll: Amid shutdown, Republican falls further behind in race for Va. governor

National Republicans may be glad the midterm elections are a year away after polls have shown the party’s favorability at all-time lows because of the federal government shutdown. But one Republican – in a swing state – is caught in the buzz saw.

A new NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll finds Republican Ken Cuccinelli slipping further behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe, 46 to 38 percent in the race for Virginia governor among likely voters. That’s 3 points wider than McAuliffe’s 43 to 38 percent lead a month ago -- before the shutdown. Libertarian Robert Sarvis gets 9 percent.

Virginia was one of the top states impacted by the shutdown -- with hundreds of thousands of federal workers, contractors, and military service members and retirees in the state. And a majority (54 percent) in the poll blames Republicans for the shutdown. Just 31 percent of likely voters blame President Barack Obama.

Four-in-10 – 39 percent – said either they or a family member has been affected by the shutdown, whether it’s employment, services or benefits.

Many say the shutdown will have an impact on their vote -- 38 percent of registered voters said it would have a major impact on it; 21 percent said it would have a minor one. Among respondents who said it has had a major impact on their vote, McAuliffe is winning them 55-27 percent. Among those who say it is a minor issue, McAuliffe also leads, 52-33 percent.

Cuccinelli only leads with those who say the government shutdown is not an issue, 49-36 percent. 

“Just when Cuccinelli needed to start closing the gap against McAuliffe, the government shutdown became a huge roadblock,” said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.

The Republican Party brand appears to be badly damaged in the commonwealth – 62 percent said they had an unfavorable view of the party, while just 33 percent said they viewed the party favorably. Among independents, it was even worse. By a 71-23 percent margin, the GOP was viewed negatively.

The Democratic Party and President Obama get better scores – 45-50 percent unfavorable for the party, 50-48 percent favorable for Obama.

Cuccinelli, the Tea Party-aligned attorney general, has been outspent on the airwaves 2-to-1 since the shutdown, and he has seen his likability rating take a hit. A majority now say they view him negatively (37-54 percent) up from 49 percent a month ago. By contrast, McAuliffe is 44-43 percent favorable. (His negative rating, however, is also up 7 points from last month.)

McAuliffe has expanded his lead with independents from 2 points in September (36-34 percent) to 8 points now (41-33 percent). In September, Cuccinelli got a 31-45 percent unfavorable score with the group. Now, a majority give say they view him unfavorably – 34-51 percent. McAuliffe doesn’t fare much better -- with a 36-47 unfavorable, but that might not be the point.

“It’s not that independents are enamored with McAuliffe,” Miringoff said, “they just dislike Cuccinelli more.”

And that just might be the theme of this campaign.

“When you have a majority viewing you negatively, it’s hard to win an election,” said Barbara Carvalho, who also helped conduct the poll. “It’s not that McAuliffe has closed the deal, it’s that he’s the lesser of two evils.”

The poll was conducted Oct. 13-15 of 1,082 registered voters (margin of error +/- 3 percent) and 596 likely voters (margin of error +/- 4 percent). NBC's Mark Murray contributed to this report.