PPP's monthly look at Richard Burr's popularity brings good news and bad news for the first term Senator.
First the good news:
-He now leads 42-35 when tested against a generic Democrat. That's an improvement from June when he trailed 41-38 on that measure and July when he led just 40-38. He's basically picking up two points a month on that front, probably due to shifts toward Republicans in the national climate as Barack Obama's approval rating declines.
-We tested him against three potential Democratic opponents we had looked at already in previous polling, and he's increased his margins against all of them. He's up 43-31 against Elaine Marshall, up from 43-35 in March. Against Cal Cunningham he has a 43-28 advantage, improved from 40-31 last month. And against Kenneth Lewis it's 43-27, better than 42-31 in July.
Now the bad news:
-His approval rating is still mired in the 30s, at 38/32. For sake of comparison Elizabeth Dole was at 48% in August of 2007.
-In addition to the other three Democrats we looked at, Burr is also up 43-27 on Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, who may enter the race. That 43% he's earning against all four Democrats publicly contemplating making a run for it is identical to the 43-27 lead Dole had when first tested against Kay Hagan. So overall Burr is in a very similar position 15 months out to where his defeated former colleague was.
Burr's situation is pretty simple. If things continue to move in a Republican direction all the way to November 2010 none of the Democratic candidates are going to be strong enough to defeat him. But if the economy turns around and Barack Obama gets the credit for it, resulting in another Democratic year, Burr is probably not strong enough to get reelected. As a relatively anonymous Senator his fate is more than likely going to be determined by which way the wind is blowing. Unless it turns out to be a year where disgusted voters just turn out incumbents of both parties at a much higher rate than usual.
The other interesting finding in this poll is the lack of differentiation in how the different Democrats poll. After 12 years in statewide office Marshall polls only 3-4 points better than the other potential contenders, and doesn't eat into Burr's share of the vote any more than the rest. That's not to say Marshall wouldn't end up being the strongest candidate, especially if she can tap into the fundraising networks of national women's groups, but at least initially her higher profile isn't translating into much better poll numbers.
Full results here