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Democrats in Virginia appear to be leading the charge in early voting, putting Terry McAuliffe on strong footing in the governor’s race, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling.

Virginia technically does not have early voting, but many localities allow “in-person absentee” voting for those who qualify to vote absentee.

Among those who have already voted, McAuliffe leads Republican Ken Cuccinelli by 18 points, 57 percent to 39 percent, with Libertarian Robert Sarvis receiving 3 percent of the vote. This is the mirror image of findings in a similar survey in 2009, according to Public Policy Polling, when now Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) led Democrat Creigh Deeds by 18 points.

The survey included 724 people who had already voted by Oct. 19 and 20 and was funded by the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group.

The respondent pool leaned Democratic — about 44 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and 22 percent independent. The poll shows McAuliffe leading among independents.

Most polls of likely voters taken throughout October show McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by 7 to 9 points, a lead that surpasses the margin of error for those surveys. In polling, Sarvis is receiving support in the 8 to 10 percent range.

“The big question about Sarvis is whether his voters will stick with him to the end, or wind up voting for

McAuliffe or Cuccinelli,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in a statement accompanying the university’s latest poll in the race.

Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, writes that the lower support Sarvis is seeing among early voters suggests he won’t reach 10 percent, but that the decline does not help Cuccinelli.

In total, the polling in the gubernatorial race suggests that Cuccinelli will have a hard time closing the gap, with less than two weeks to go in the race, said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Ken Cuccinelli’s chances of winning seem to be dimming,” Skelley said. There would have to be some kind of major shakeup in the race.”

While not impossible, Skelley said, time is running out for a major shift in momentum.

Election Day is Nov. 5.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com