By Ellen Wulfhorst
(Reuters) - Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, holds a narrow lead in the race for Virginia governor against Republican Ken Cuccinelli, according to poll results released on Tuesday.
McAuliffe leads with 43 percent over Cuccinelli's 38 percent among likely voters that include those undecided but leaning toward a candidate for November's election, according to the survey by NBC4/NBC News and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Cuccinelli is Virginia's attorney general, in a state dominated by Republican officeholders, but which went for Democrat Barack Obama in last year's presidential election. Republican Bob McDonnell is the current governor but state law bars him from running for re-election.
McAuliffe's lead is negligible when the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points is factored in. But it does mark a shift from a NBC4/NBC News and Marist poll in May showing the two candidates tied.
"None of the candidates has reached a comfort level with voters," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute.
Last week, in a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, McAuliffe led by 3 points, within that survey's margin of error.
McAuliffe led Cuccinelli when voters were asked which candidate came closer to their social views, cared more about the middle class, shared their values, understood residents' problems and could be trusted more to do what's best for Virginia.
Cuccinelli led when voters were asked which candidate would be better for business and had the experience to be governor.
Cuccinelli has been ensnared in a scandal involving the chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, Jonnie Williams, who gave gifts to him and McDonnell. Cuccinelli has said he would give a charity $18,000, the value of the gifts he received from Williams.
The landline and cellphone poll by NBC4/NBC News and Marist was conducted September 17 to 19.
New Jersey is the only other state with a gubernatorial election in November. Incumbent Republican Chris Christie, seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2016, holds a strong lead over Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono, according to recent polls.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst in New York; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)