Under the Dome

Dome: New poll shows some Republican vulnerability in NC

jfrank@newsobserver.comSeptember 25, 2013 

The upheaval from the legislative session continues to reverberate as lawmakers look at what it did for their prospects in 2014. Voters are wavering, Republicans are openly discussing a course-correction next year and the N.C. Democratic Party is trying to capitalize. And now, it’s showing in legislative district polls.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-learning firm based in Raleigh, recently looked at eight state Senate districts held by Republicans, finding two leaning Democrat and six more in the toss-up category. PPP pollster Tom Jensen writes that “the political landscape has shifted in such a way that Democrats have a lot more opportunities to eat into the Republican majority next year than could have ever been imagined even six months ago.”

It’s still early, and much will change, but the poll illuminates the battleground in the 13 months ahead. Writing in a polling memo released to Dome on Wednesday, Jensen sees the numbers as a reflection of three things: the unpopularity of the Republican legislature, the decline in Gov. Pat McCrory’s poll numbers and unknown and unpopular incumbent lawmakers.

Here’s a quick take on what Jensen thinks the polling shows:

•  Senate District 9, Thom Goolsby, Wilmington: Best pickup opportunity for Democrats at this point with Goolsby down by 12 points to a generic Democrat. A majority (52 percent) disapprove of his performance.

•  Senate District 19, Wesley Meredith, Fayetteville: A generic Democrat was up 7 percentage points against the two-term lawmaker. Barack Obama won the district in 2012.

•  Senate District 1, Bill Cook, Chocowinity: This coastal district was the closest race in the state in 2012, and it’s a dead heat again with McCrory slightly more unpopular here compared to the rest of the state

•  Senate District 12, Ron Rabin, Spring Lake: Democrats appear tied in a district that McCrory won by 24 points in 2012. Rabin is unknown by half his voters.

•  Senate District 15, Neal Hunt, Raleigh: McCrory won this district by 19 points, but his unfavorable rating is now 53 percent. Hunt is still up slightly, but within the margin of error.

•  Senate District 17, Tamara Barringer, Cary: A possible sign that unknown lawmakers are being pasted with the general unpopularity of the GOP legislature. About 65 percent of her district doesn’t have an opinion on her performance, but those who do lean unfavorably.

•  Senate District 18, Chad Barefoot, Wake Forest: Another virtual tie with a lawmaker who has higher unfavorable ratings than favorable but with most of those polled unsure about him.

•  Senate District 50, Jim Davis, Franklin: The lawmaker, the legislature and the governor – as in many of these districts – are all more unpopular than not among those who know them. Another close race for Davis is likely.

The poll’s margin of error ranges from 3.6 percentage points to 4.4 percentage points depending on the district. It was not conducted for any campaign, PPP says, though it surely helps Democrats get the lay of the land.

Ray Martin, a spokesman for the N.C. Senate Republican Caucus, is skeptical of the numbers. “Respected national experts have discredited their dishonest methodology and destroyed their credibility,” he said, referring to a recent New Republic story that raised questions about PPP but didn’t name sources. “Not only will we defend all 33 seats in 2014, but there are great opportunities to make gains.”

Ads attack GOP on education

N.C. Democrats have launched an ad campaign hitting the GOP on education. The full-page newspaper ads paid for by the N.C. Democratic Party target 17 legislative districts (eight Senate, nine House) and criticize Republicans for not increasing teacher pay, forcing class size increases, eliminating some teacher assistants, ending the back-to-school tax holiday, cutting money for textbooks and supplies, taking away the graduate school bonus for (future) teachers and allowing private school vouchers.

“We’re putting Gov. McCrory and Republican legislators on notice that their assault on public education is not going unnoticed,” said Robert Dempsey, the party’s executive director.

The ad’s kicker alludes to the governor’s “three E’s” – education, efficiency and the economy.

It reads: “Tell Gov. McCrory and General Assembly Republicans to study up on the three R’s: Raises, Resources and Respect.”

Staff writer John Frank

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