By Ian Simpson
Nov 5 (Reuters) - Virginia voters went to the polls onTuesday in a closely watched election for governor that has putthe Republicans' conservative Tea Party wing on the defensiveand drawn record outside money.
Surveys have shown Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, amajor party fundraiser, ahead of Republican Attorney General KenCuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite, although polls vary on thesize of his lead.
With New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie expectedto cruise to re-election on Tuesday, Virginia has become abattleground ahead of mid-term congressional elections next yearand presidential elections in 2016.
President Barack Obama campaigned for McAuliffe on Sunday ina bid to make the vote a referendum on the Tea Party. FormerPresident Bill Clinton, a close friend of McAuliffe, and formerSecretary of State Hillary Clinton also have stumped for him.
Cuccinelli has received support from such conservativeRepublican figures as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal andsenators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.
A win by McAuliffe, a former head of the Democratic NationalCommittee, would mark the first time in nine elections that theparty that controls the White House has taken the Virginiagovernor's office.
Cuccinelli, a strong opponent of abortion and same-sexmarriage, has trailed badly among women and independent voters.He has campaigned against Obama's signature new healthcare law.
Virginia, which relies more than most states on federalpaychecks and contracts, was hit hard by the government shutdownlast month. Most Americans have blamed the Republicans andespecially Cuccinelli's conservative Tea Party wing for theshutdown.
McAuliffe, who has never held elected office, has drawncriticism because of his connection with GreenTech, a strugglingMississippi-based electric car manufacturer that he helpedlaunch but which failed to produce promised jobs.
McAuliffe is in favor of the federal healthcare law,offshore oil drilling and an expansion of preschool programs forpoor children. He supports gay marriage, now barred by the stateconstitution.
McAuliffe has raised about $34 million to Cuccinelli's $20million, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public AccessProject, which tracks political money in the state.
About 70 percent of the money raised has come from out ofstate, by far the highest percentage for any gubernatorial race,according to the nonpartisan National Institute on Money InState Politics, in Helena, Montana.
One wild card is Robert Sarvis, the candidate for thefree-market Libertarian Party. He has polled as high as about 10percent, with much of his support coming from Republicans.
Republican Governor Bob McDonnell is barred from re-electionby state law. The polls opened at 6 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) andclose at 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT).
- Politics & Government
- Terry McAuliffe
- Barack Obama