Elaine Marshall continues to be the leader in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary, but with 45% of voters undecided it's too early to count out Cal Cunningham or Kenneth Lewis with three weeks remaining to election day.
Marshall checks in at 23% this month to 17% for Cunningham and 9% for Lewis. Minor candidates are getting the other 6%.
Marshall's lead is built on strong support from women and senior citizens, two key constituencies in the Democratic primary electorate. She leads Cunningham 24-14 with women, who we project to account for 58% of voters in this election. Cunningham actually has the 22-21 lead with men. With voters over 65 the Marshall lead is 26-11 over Cunningham.
In a finding that encapsulates the lack of substantive differences between these candidates there is no real division in voter support along ideological lines. Marshall leads and polls in the 20s among voters who describe themselves as liberals, moderates, and conservatives.
Despite a string of high profile endorsements from black political figures, Ken Lewis is still running third among African American voters. That could change a lot in the final weeks if he uses paid media to leverage those endorsements, particularly on black radio and through direct mail.
The candidates continue to be largely unknown. Even after more than 13 years in statewide office, 61% of primary voters have no opinion about Marshall. For Lewis that's 80% and for Cunningham it's 85%. Because of those high levels of ambivalence this race is susceptible to a great deal of change in the final three weeks as the candidates start getting their messages out more broadly and voters begin to tune in more.
It's impossible to say how things will play out as this contest gets more visibility but if the undecideds broke in proportion to current candidate support (which they seldom do) Marshall would just barely break 40% to avoid sending the race into a runoff. You can bet that's a scenario Richard Burr would love, as it would add another seven weeks to the calendar where Democrats are focused on each other instead of Burr. It's in the party's best interests for one of the candidates, whoever it is, to break away from the field and cross that 40% mark.
As for Burr's primary, he leads with 67% to 7% for Brad Jones, 3% for Eddie Burks, and 1% for Larry Linney. He has consolidated his support from GOP voters since we started polling the primary contest in February.
Full results here