With the news this morning that Elaine Marshall is seriously considering a Senate run, somebody posed the question to me: wouldn't that be game over for the Democratic nomination?
That train of thought makes sense- you would expect somebody with more than a decade in statewide office to be able to easily dispatch a one term state senator (Cal Cunningham) and someone who has never served in any elected office (Kenneth Lewis).
But it's really not the case. When we polled it in March 43% of Democratic voters said they had a favorable opinion of Marshall while 50% said they had no opinion. She certainly has more name recognition than Lewis (70% no opinion in a May poll) and Cunningham (67% no opinion in a February poll), but none of them are very well known. Secretary of State just isn't a headline winning position.
Marshall would doubtless lead in early polling of a potential primary contest but probably not by a wide margin. The vast majority of voters would be making their decisions based on the campaigns the contenders ran, rather than starting out knowing who they're going to vote for based just on who the candidates are as is often the case when more high profile people are involved. At that point it comes down to who can raise the most money and spend it the most effectively, and it's not clear anyone out of the Marshall/Lewis/Cunningham trio has the inherent edge on that front.
At this point it is unlikely there is anyone who could decide to run for the Senate and clear the field. Last year a contested primary actually ended up working to Kay Hagan's benefit, and that may end up being the case again for whoever the Democrats choose next May- or maybe even June if a runoff is necessary as the field expands.