I suppose any campaign-styled event is bound to bring out the most talked-about and advertised issues of the race, but both Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe still have pretty poor favorability ratings with Virginia voters. The deeply negative and personal race is largely becoming about the Democrats lobbing “war on women”, Todd-Akinish grenades at the Cuccinelli camp while they return fire with seedy allegations about McAuliffe’s business dealings, and it doesn’t sound like a forum about energy issues last Thursday went too differently. Via WaPo:

A joint forum on energy issues with Virginia’s main gubernatorial hopefuls devolved into sharply personal attacks Thursday as businessman Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II veered off the topic to heap scorn on each other.

“Will [Virginians] vote for someone who may enter office with a federal investigation hanging over his head?” Cuccinelli asked. “That would be a first.”

McAuliffe and outside groups have also repeatedly hammered Cuccinelli for his 2010 efforts as attorney general to procure records from Michael Mann, who was then a climate researcher at the University of Virginia. …

McAuliffe cited the Mann case as an example of why Cuccinelli would be “bad for business,” lumping it in with Cuccinelli’s positions on such social issues as abortion and gay rights.

Cuccinelli, in turn, highlighted McAuliffe’s change in position on offshore drilling. When McAuliffe ran for governor in 2009, he said he was opposed to offshore drilling in Virginia. But he has changed his position, and his campaign has attributed the switch to unspecified new technology that makes drilling safer.

I’m glad Cuccinelli made the point about McAuliffe’s flip-floppiness on offshore drilling, a major potential factor in Virginia’s economic outlook — but this race has definitely taken a turn for the staunchly negative, and as Professor Larry Sabato notes in his latest crystal-ball update, it so far looks like the advantage of that scenario is trending toward McAuliffe:

As the calendar turns to September, the nation’s marquee race in 2013 is coming into focus: Terry McAuliffe (D) now has an edge over Ken Cuccinelli (R) in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and we’re changing our rating in the contest from toss-up to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

The decision is based on several factors, all of which seem to suggest that the former Democratic National Committee chairman is leading the state attorney general.

McAuliffe has managed to make the prospect of a Governor Cuccinelli seem scary, while Cuccinelli has “only” succeeded in making McAuliffe look like a run-of-the-mill, self-interested wealthy political hack. In this wholly negative race, that sad distinction matters.

What’s kept Cuccinelli from painting McAuliffe in even less favorable colors? The Bob McDonnell scandal (to which Cuccinelli is connected by the GOP party label and gifts from the same supplicant), his substantially lesser fundraising, E.W. Jackson’s nomination for lieutenant governor, and the defection of a sizable number of moderate Republicans led by the lieutenant governor he left as road kill, Bill Bolling.