Cuccinelli remains more unpopular than McAuliffe, according to the poll, a big reason for his deficit and for the libertarian candidate's surprisingly strong number. 

The attorney general's disapproval rating is at 51 percent with 34 percent approving, while McAuliffe's numbers are even at 38 percent approving and disapproving. Neither is viewed as a particularly strong candidate, as both have struggled to connect with voters and put to bed ethics concerns.

The poll is the latest to show McAuliffe ahead; Democratic, nonpartisan and Republican pollsters have all found him leading in the last month or so.

Cuccinelli's campaign sought to frame the poll as good news.

"This race is within the margin of error, which we always knew was the case," says Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix.

The live-caller poll of 1,005 likely voters was conducted from Sept. 9-15 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.