RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe holds a narrowing lead over Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli, with a strong showing by the race's Libertarian entrant possibly affecting the outcome, a poll released on Wednesday found.
A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters showed former Democratic National Committee chairman McAuliffe holding the support of 46 percent of likely voters, with 39 percent favoring state Attorney General Cuccinelli. The spread has slightly narrowed from McAuliffe's 47-39 lead two weeks ago.
Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis has gained ground and now has the support of 10 percent of likely voters, up from 8 percent in the prior poll.
The question of whether Sarvis' voters stick with him or opt to vote for one of the other candidates could prove a wildcard in the November 5 election, said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute.
"One reason McAuliffe is ahead is that he wins 92 percent of Democrats while Cuccinelli has only 81 percent of Republicans," Brown said, noting that 11 percent of Republicans favor Sarvis. "If Cuccinelli can't bring more Republicans home, he is likely to be toast."
Two percent of Democrats polled said they favored Sarvis.
The hotly contested gubernatorial race has drawn intense national attention and stars from both parties to Virginia.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who in 2008 sought the Republican presidential nomination, appeared at a rally for Cuccinelli on Saturday at Liberty University in Lynchburg, a conservative, Christian college founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, has called on the potent, Democratic, husband-and-wife team of Bill and Hillary Clinton, formerly president and secretary of State. McAuliffe has raised millions for each of them, during various elections.
Making her first campaign appearance in more than four years, possible 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton endorsed McAuliffe at a rally in voter-rich northern Virginia last weekend.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,085 likely voters on October 15-21 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Gevirtz