For the umpteenth month in a row Richard Burr's approval rating is mediocre but he nevertheless leads all his potential Democratic challengers by healthy margins.
38% of North Carolina voters like the job Burr is doing while 32% disapprove. That's unchanged from PPP's August poll. He gets good marks from 66% of Republicans, 34% of independents, and 20% of Democrats.
Burr's number with Republicans is actually the second best it's been all year. It was at its highest in February when he was visible in his opposition to the stimulus and now it's up again as he's been in the spotlight for his opposition to Barack Obama on health care reform. Clearly that stuff ingratiates him to the GOP base.
Bob Etheridge polls the strongest of the Democratic candidates against Burr, trailing 41-34. Dennis Wicker and Elaine Marshall do next best, each down 42-31. They're followed by Cal Cunningham at 42-30, Kevin Foy at 43-29, and Kenneth Lewis at 43-27.
It's always worth a reminder that Elizabeth Dole led Kay Hagan 43-27 the first time we tested that match up.
The key take away from those numbers probably isn't the variation in where the Democrats poll, which is largely a function of name recognition at this point, but in the lack of variability in Burr's number. He's at 41-43% against all comers, similar to how he was at 43% against four potential opponents we tested him against last month.
That speaks to the fact that it really might not matter who the Democratic candidate ends up being. With Burr's numbers where they are, if the political climate moves back in a Democratic direction any candidate who can raise some money, has something to say and can avoid making a fool of themselves is probably going to beat him. But if things stay the way they are today, or move in a more Republican direction, none of them are going to beat him.
That reality is kind of reflected in how the generic ballot has moved in the last few months. In June, when Barack Obama's approval rating was still pretty strong, Burr trailed a generic Democrat 41-38. Now he leads 45-38 on that question. His approval rating was mired in the 30s both then and now, but his prospects for reelection have improved as discontent with Obama and Congressional Democrats has risen.
That fact is particularly acute with independents. In June Burr had a 39-32 generic ballot lead with them. Now that's 46-24.
Elaine Marshall's entry ensures that Democrats will have at least one credible Senate candidate with the possibility of more choices on the way. Now we just have to wait and see which way the wind blows.
Full results here