Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham have both gained ground on Richard Burr after building up their exposure during the Democratic primary campaign. Burr is now in a weaker position than Elizabeth Dole was at the same point in the election cycle two years ago.
Burr leads Marshall by just a single point, 43-42, and is up 44-39 on Cunningham. Dole led Kay Hagan 48-43 immediately after the primary in 2008.
The share of the vote Burr receives is virtually unchanged from a month ago, but Marshall has gained five points of support and Cunningham has gained three. Burr's early poll leads were always a little inflated because there were a lot more Democratic leaning voters, unfamiliar with their party's candidates, saying they were undecided. Now with Marshall and Cunningham becoming better known, they're each winning a larger share of the vote with Democrats and with Democratic leaning independents.
Even after their primary ad campaigns Cunningham and Marshall are mostly unknown to voters in the state. 66% don't know enough about Cunningham to have an opinion and the same is true for 57% of voters when it comes to Marshall. Cunningham's name recognition has improved by 21 points in the last month and Marshall's has by 13, but they both still have a long way to go before they become known quantities to most voters in the state.
Ultimately the race's closeness at this point has very little to do with Cunningham or Marshall and everything to do with Burr, who continues to look like a weak incumbent. Only 37% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 40% who disapprove.
It's good for Marshall and Cunningham that they're in a comparable or better position than Hagan at this point two years ago, but there's no guarantee the rest of this story will play itself out as it did in 2008. It's still shaping up as a strong election year for Republicans in North Carolina, and the turnout numbers from last week's primary suggested a lack of interest in this year's election among Democratic voters. Still it's becoming increasingly clear that Burr will not coast to victory this fall, and that regardless of who the Democratic nominee is this should be a very competitive race.
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