Richard Burr's poll numbers this month are the worst they've been since June, and it's increasingly clear he's the most vulnerable Republican Senator in the country up for reelection next year.
A poll by the conservative Civitas Institute released yesterday showed Burr trailing a generic Democratic opponent. Our newest survey finds him with just a one point lead, 42-41, against a generic Dem and also finds his approval rating in negative territory at 35/37.
Burr's numbers had been improving through most of the second half of 2009 as the political climate worsened for Democrats nationally. After trailing by three points on the generic ballot in June his position gradually got better to the point where he led by 11 points on that measure in our October survey. Over the last two months though his standing has started to worsen again, as the advantage dropped to seven points in November and now down to just a single point.
Burr's fall is occurring with independents. Where he held generic ballot leads of 20 and 21 points with them on the last two surveys, he has just a 40-36 advantage with them on this month's poll. The conservative Civitas survey actually showed a generic Democrat leading Burr 30-23 with independents.
Burr continues to lead over all of his actual Democratic opponents. Elaine Marshall comes the closest at a 42-37 deficit, her best performance yet in polling against Burr. Kenneth Lewis and Cal Cunningham both match or exceed their strongest numbers so far as well, trailing Burr 43-37 and 45-36 respectively.
None of the Democratic candidates are particularly well known to the state's voters at this point. 81% don't know enough about Cunningham to have an opinion, 80% say the same of Lewis, and 69% do of Marshall. Looking toward the primary 28% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Marshall to 12% for Cunningham and 10% for Lewis.
To put the current state of the race into perspective, Elizabeth Dole led Kay Hagan 51-39 in a poll we conducted at this same point in the election cycle two years ago.
One thing that continues to hurt is Burr is his relative anonymity across the state. Although the media and pundits have commented repeatedly on the fact that Burr has been more visible than Dole was, only 38% of actual voters share that sentiment to 34% who think that Dole was more visible.
Regardless of the present dip in Burr's poll numbers 2010 is still going to be a far better year for Republicans than 2008 was. But because there are a limited number of vulnerable Republican incumbents this seat is likely to be a top priority for national Democrats, and it looks like North Carolina once again will have one of the most competitive races in the country.
Full results here