'Enormous' gender gap costs Cuccinelli

Democrat Terry McAuliffe appears on the cusp of a solid victory over Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) following a gubernatorial campaign that underscored ongoing Republican struggles with female voters. [WATCH VIDEO]

McAuliffe’s lead in the polls was built on a clear gender gap. The former Democratic National Committee chairman exploited a big fundraising edge to deluge the airwaves with ads focused on Cuccinelli’s opposition to abortion, his views on contraception and his failure to support the federal Violence Against Women Act.

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Cuccinelli sought to refute the Democratic theme that he has waged a “war on women” with ads featuring an African-American woman calling McAuliffe’s attacks on his social stances “ridiculous.”

The attorney general also released a video of his wife discussing Cuccinelli’s work to prevent sexual assault and rolled out a robust  “truth about Ken” section on his website refuting McAuliffe’s attacks.

But the effort never gained traction with independent voters, and Cuccinelli finished his campaign as he began it, with a focus on turning out base conservatives rather than winning over centrists.

“The McAuliffe campaign did a really good job of defining [Cuccinelli] early — but frankly, he did a pretty good job with his record of defining himself,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “The gender gap is just enormous.”

In a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, Cuccinelli trailed by six percentage points. That split was entirely driven by female voters, who broke by a 14-point margin for McAuliffe.

Cuccinelli actually led with male voters in the poll.

“Cuccinelli couldn't get out of his own way and got slimed with the war on women attack,” says GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “He never got outside the conservative echo chamber.”

The attorney general isn’t the first Republican to fall victim to Democrats’ “war on women” attack.

Mitt Romney was hurt by the same argument, as were a number of Senate candidates in 2012.

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has avoided the same fate — and is poised for a decisive reelection in blue state New Jersey on Tuesday — other Republicans continue to struggle to overcome attacks over social issues.

McAuliffe and Cuccinelli finished their campaigns stumping with big-name surrogates.

Vice President Biden appeared with McAuliffe on Monday to accuse Cuccinelli of having views on women that are “literally from another era.”

President Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton also rallied in Virginia in recent days for McAuliffe.

Cuccinelli closed his campaign alongside Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Other recent Cuccinelli surrogates include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

Cuccinelli’s closing message has been to slam McAuliffe on ObamaCare.

The former attorney general, who was part of the legal challenge to the law, has played up its struggles in stump speeches and campaign ads.

"I'm scared to death about what ObamaCare is doing to Virginians. Terry McAuliffe is scared to death what ObamaCare is doing to Terry McAuliffe," Cuccinelli told supporters Monday. "Tomorrow, we need to have his fears fulfilled."

But unless the polls are wrong, it's Cuccinelli who might be in for a tough night.