Rob Christensen

NC has toughest Senate races in the country

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Republican Sen. Richard Burr should be prepared for a political brawl in next year’s election, because North Carolina is the toughest neighborhood in the country.

Even though Burr does not yet have an opponent, North Carolina has a long history of tough, expensive and close races.

Since 1990, North Carolina has had the most competitive Senate races of any state in the country, according to a survey by Smart Politics, a nonpartisan blog founded by Dr. Eric Ostermeier, research associate at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.

Smart Politics examined 450 Senate elections conducted since 1990 and it found that the average margin of victory in North Carolina was 6.1 points, the smallest in the nation. Colorado was the second closest with an average victory margin of 8.8 points.

North Carolina had the largest number of Senate races decided by single digits – eight of the nine past elections. The only race that was won by a double-digit margin was Burr’s 11.8-point win in 2010 over Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.

In fact, North Carolina’s run of close elections goes back even further than the 1990 start of the study. Thirteen of North Carolina’s last 14 Senate races have been won by single digits.

The last true blow-out in a North Carolina Senate race was in 1974 following the Watergate scandal, when Democratic Attorney General Robert Morgan defeated furniture executive Bill Stevens by 25.1 points.

North Carolina’s Senate races are far closer than neighboring states such as Virginia (20.7-point average margin) or South Carolina (16 points) or Tennessee (24.2 points.)

Last year’s Senate race was a prime example of the dog-eat-dog nature of North Carolina races. Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by a 1.6-point margin – the closest Senate race in the country – and at $111 million, the most expensive in U.S. history.

Democrats have been trying to talk Hagan into running again against Burr.

Burr seems vulnerable. His approval numbers are anemic, with only 35 percent of North Carolina voters approving of the job he is doing compared with 36 percent who disapprove, according a Public Policy Polling survey taken earlier this month. An approval rating below 50 percent is considered lackluster.

Burr is in about the same position as Hagan was at this point. Hagan had a job approval rating of 41 and a disapproval rating of 42 in a PPP survey conducted in June 2013.

In a polling matchup, Burr leads Hagan 49-40. At the same time two years ago, Hagan led Tillis by five points.

But Burr has a number of things going for him. Although North Carolina’s Senate races have been close, they have trended Republican, with the GOP winning 11 of the past 15 Senate races in North Carolina.

Christensen: 919-829-4532;

Twitter: @oldpolhack

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