McAuliffe has a 48 percent to 42 percent lead over Cuccinelli in the university's poll, the first of likely voters it has conducted this year and the first public poll of the race in nearly a month.

Much has transpired during that period, little of it good for the two candidates in a race increasingly focused on scandal. Cuccinelli faces increasing questions over personal gifts from a campaign donor who also gave major gifts to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), while McAuliffe faces scrutiny over a Securities & Exchange Commission investigation of a company he founded.

The two are tied with men, but McAuliffe holds a 12-point lead with women, a similar trend to what was seen in many races last election. Democrats tend to run slightly ahead with female voters, but that gap has been growing some in recent years.

The poll finds that "honesty and trustworthiness" is the most important factor to voters, with 93 percent of voters rating it "extremely" or "very" important, more than any other factor. McAuliffe holds a slight edge on that measure, with 39 percent of voters seeing him as honest to 36 who don't, while Cuccinelli is slightly underwater with 43 percent of voters seeing him as dishonest to 42 percent who see him as honest.

Similarly, McAuliffe has a slight net favorable rating while Cuccinelli's unfavorables are higher than his favorable numbers.

Quinnipiac's poll of 1,129 likely voters was conducted from Aug. 14-19 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.