Under the Dome

Sunday Dome: US Sen. Burr plans fight against... (insert name here)

NC Republican Sen. Richard Burr criticizes the international agreement to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, saying that it could result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
NC Republican Sen. Richard Burr criticizes the international agreement to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, saying that it could result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. AP

North Carolinians go the polls in about a year and a half to elect a president, a governor and a U.S. senator – a “triple play” election that last occurred in 2008.

Those races are all underway. Will it be Jeb Bush against Hillary Clinton? Gov. Pat McCrory against Attorney General Roy Cooper?

And current U.S. Sen. Richard Burr against ... well, who?

There is no candidate yet on the Democratic side who is the clear challenger to Burr, a Republican.

All eyes remain on Kay Hagan, the one-term senator who lost a close re-election bid last year to then-House Speaker Thom Tillis. Hagan addressed the possibility of another run in a Boston radio interview this month: “I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no.” She is on a fellowship at Harvard University this semester.

Burr first joined the Senate after beating businessman Erskine Bowles in 2004. Burr won re-election over Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in 2010. He is already raising money, including a one-night, $1 million fundraising event early this year.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plays a key role in recruiting his opponent. The DSCC is important because Senate races are nationalized and the committee will help raise millions to influence the outcome in a closely divided North Carolina. Officials there aren’t talking about who might run.

Paul Shumaker, the chief consultant for Burr’s re-election campaign, said the Burr campaign is preparing for a fight.

“We are hearing that the DSCC is still trying to recruit former Senator Kay Hagan,” he said by email. “They have a list that includes State Treasurer Janet Cowell, former State Senator Cal Cunningham as well as many other Democratic members of the General Assembly. North Carolina is a competitive state. We always prepare to run aggressive campaigns regardless of the opponent or the election year trend.”

Scott Falmlen, a consultant who was executive director of the state Democratic Party from 1999 to 2005, said the DSCC is looking around even as Hagan “has not taken herself out of the running.”

“I think there are conversations going on behind the scenes, if you will, on potential candidates should Sen. Hagan choose not to run again,” Falmlen said. “I think the chances of her taking the plunge are less than 50-50 if I were to be placing a bet on it.”

He said the pace of the conversations is picking up. “The clock is ticking, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near the alarm going off,” he said.

He said Cowell, state Sen. Dan Blue and state Sen. Jeff Jackson, a former prosecutor, are likely in the mix.

Cowell did not return a call. Former five-term Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who served on Raleigh’s City Council with Cowell, said her name comes up “every now and then” as a candidate for office higher than state treasurer.

But “I doubt she’s going to do it,” Meeker said. He said he was considering running for an office again – but not the Burr race.

Blue, the Democratic leader in the state Senate and former state House speaker, said he’s focused only on organizing state Senate races for 2016.

“I’m working to change the picture on Jones Street,” Blue said. He acknowledged that his name is mentioned as a possible opponent.

“But I haven’t given any prolonged deep thought to that,” he said. “I have no immediate plans to analyze it.”

Jackson, who has used social media to build his profile beyond the state Senate, said he is expecting a baby soon and that “I haven’t even considered it.” He knows his name has come up.

“I told my wife, as soon as we have a happy, healthy baby at home, we would talk about it,” Jackson said.

For a long time, the race was seen as one in which Anthony Foxx, a former Charlotte mayor, would run. He’s now U.S. transportation secretary and expressing no interest. Pollsters have tested Burr against U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and outgoing UNC President Tom Ross.

Former U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, now with a New York-based law firm, said he feels “no desperate need to return to electoral politics.”

“The Senate race will be a national race, especially the fundraising, and the supposed Democratic establishment in North Carolina will not matter much,” Miller said. “They could offer ‘access’ to big contributors when Democrats controlled the governor’s mansion and the legislature. They don’t have much access to offer now, and the big business money is going to Richard (Burr) no matter who the Democrat is.”

Burr’s ratings indicate approval from about one-third of voters and disapproval from about one-third. Public Policy Polling says an approval in the 30s puts Burr in the “danger zone.”

Still, Burr is polling ahead of a short list of possible Democratic opponents. (Blue has not been listed among them). Of those polled, Hagan and Cowell trail Burr, but are the closest.

J. Andrew Curliss, Renee Schoof and Lynn Bonner

NOTE: This post updated from the original, which said the last “triple play” election in NC was in 2004 and described Shumaker as Burr’s general counsel.

Richard Burr in the polls

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr has fared well at the ballot box since running for the U.S. Senate in 2004 as a congressman from Winston-Salem. Recent polls offer a mixed forecast in a closely divided North Carolina. Burr’s results, at a glance:

2004 General Election

Burr (R): 1,791,450 (51.6%)

Erskine Bowles (D): 1,632,527 (47%)

Tom Bailey (L): 47,743 (1.4%)

2010 General Election

Burr (R): 1,458,046 (55%)

Elaine Marshall (D): 1,145,074 (43%)

Michael Beitler (L): 55,687 (2%)

Feb. 2015 Elon University poll

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Burr is handling his job as U.S. senator?

Approve: 37%

Disapprove: 31%

Don’t know/refuse: 32%

Margin of error: +/- 3.52 points

Feb. 2015 High Point University poll

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Burr is handling his job as U.S. senator?

Approve: 30%

Disapprove: 31%

Don’t know/refuse: 39%

Margin of error: +/- 4.8 points

Feb. 2015 Public Policy Polling poll

Who would you vote for in the 2016 U.S. Senate race?

Burr: 48% Kay Hagan: 42% Not sure: 10%

Burr: 47% Anthony Foxx: 36% Not sure: 17%

Burr: 45% Janet Cowell: 38% Not sure: 18%

Burr: 44% Tom Ross: 35% Not sure: 21%

Burr: 44% Mike McIntyre: 37% Not sure: 19%

Margin of error: +/- 3.4 points

March 2015 Public Policy Polling poll

Who would you vote for in the 2016 U.S. Senate race?

Burr: 50% Kay Hagan: 43% Not sure: 7%

Burr: 45% Allen Joines: 33% Not sure: 23%

Burr: 45% Anthony Foxx: 36% Not sure: 20%

Burr: 44% Janet Cowell: 38% Not sure: 18%

Margin of error: +/- 3.4 points

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