New North Carolina Numbers … Already

The calendar is obviously not stopping Public Policy Polling from examining the impending 2016 campaign. In the company’s home state of North Carolina, an electorate they survey monthly, both Sen. Richard Burr (R) and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) are scheduled to stand for re-election.

In polling the state, PPP looked at defeated Sen. Kay Hagan as the Democrats’ most prominent 2016 candidate, at least for the Senate seat. The outgoing senator has not yet commented about what her future political plans may include, but her presence on a hypothetical ballot is a good indicator against which to measure Burr’s political strength.

For governor, the top Democrat appears to be four-term Attorney General Roy Cooper. Previously mentioned as a possible candidate for other statewide positions, Cooper has stayed put for what will be 16 years, racking up strong re-election percentages while doing so. At the present time he appears to be preparing for a gubernatorial run.

PPP’s Dec. 4-7 survey (823 registered North Carolina voters) finds Sen. Burr leading Hagan 46-43 percent. He scores identical 44-38 percent marks when paired with state Treasurer Janet Cowell (D) and current US Transportation Secretary and former Charlotte mayor, Anthony Foxx (D). Neither of the latter individuals has given any indication that they are considering launching a senatorial campaign challenge, however.

Burr’s job approval, according to this poll, is 31:36 percent favorable to unfavorable, which isn’t particularly bad on a PPP survey because the firm tends to consistently derive negative responses on this particular question. In comparison, the same respondent group rates President Obama’s job approval at 40:53 percent, and outgoing Sen. Hagan a poor 39:52 percent, not surprising for someone whom the voters just unseated.

On the gubernatorial front, incumbent McCrory posts a 41:46 percent favorable to unfavorable job approval ratio, while Cooper scores 26:26 percent. In a hypothetical ballot test, the Republican governor enjoys a 46-39 percent advantage over the Democratic attorney general.

Should Burr seek re-election, he will be subjected to the same difficulties that all modern-day North Carolina senators face when seeking another term before an electorate with a penchant for unseating their statewide federal incumbents. Sen. Burr is the only individual from his particular seat to win re-election (in 2010) since Sam Ervin (D) did so in 1968. The state’s other seat, that Sen-Elect Thom Tillis (R) will soon assume, has defeated its last two inhabitants.

During the aforementioned 46-year time span, only two North Carolina senators (Burr and Jesse Helms) were re-elected; one (John East) died in office; and another (John Edwards) did not seek a second term. Six incumbents (Robert Morgan, Jim Broyhill, Terry Sanford, Lauch Faircloth, Elizabeth Dole, and Hagan) were all defeated after serving one term, or part of one in Broyhill’s case. The latter was appointed to replace the late Sen. East in 1986.

On the other hand, and mostly because North Carolina only allowed incumbents to seek re-election beginning in 1980, no governor has been defeated in the state’s history. In what will be 36 years at the time of the next gubernatorial election when incumbents could seek re-election, governors Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, and Mike Easley all served multiple terms. Bev Perdue (D), the state’s first female governor when elected in 2008, chose not to seek a second term.

In the earliest phase of the 2016 election cycle, both Sen. Burr and Gov. McCrory begin in the favorite’s position. But, expect on many twists and turns in this swing state before votes are once again cast in the fall two years hence.

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