As we head into fall Richard Burr's political position, though still somewhat precarious, is a lot better than it was at the beginning of the summer.
There has not been a major improvement in Burr's approval rating over that time. It was 34% in June and 38% in September. But tested against a generic Democrat he's gone from trailing 41-38 three months ago to leading 45-38 in our most recent survey, an overall shift of ten points in his direction.
His standing has improved not so much because of anything particular to him, but because the Republican base nationally and in North Carolina right now is considerably more fired up than the Democrats.
Some have pointed to the lack of clarity about the Democratic field as the major factor improving Burr's position, but Democrats are in the same position on that front as they were two years ago at this time so that's really not the issue. There's just been a significant shift toward the Republicans in the national political climate. If it should shift back by this time next year Burr will be just as vulnerable as he looked six months ago, regardless of who the Democratic nominee ends up being.
If Burr ultimately does become the first North Carolina Senator besides Jesse Helms to be reelected in more than 40 years, it will be quite a lesson about how important timing can be in determining whether someone's political career is successful or not. If Burr had been up for reelection in either 2006 or 2008 there is virtually no chance he would have been reelected given his approval numbers and how strongly Democratic the state voted in those years. But he made it to the Senate in one good election year for Republicans and it looks like he'll stand for reelection in another good one. I don't know that Burr is a better politician than Elizabeth Dole, Lauch Faircloth, Terry Sanford, or Robert Morgan- but he might have better luck than all of them.
We'll have our newest round of North Carolina Senate numbers next week.