PPP's first look at the North Carolina Senate race since switching over to a likely voter model finds Democratic interest in this fall's election on a severe decline compared to 2008, and as a result Richard Burr has expanded his lead to 5 points. He's up on Elaine Marshall 43-38, with Libertarian Michael Beitler pulling 6% and 13% of voters undecided.
Marshall's winning 77% of Obama voters and Burr's winning 76% of McCain voters so if the turnout patterns this year were the same as in 2008 we'd have a tie race. But those planning to vote at this point two months before the election report having voted for John McCain by 9 points in 2008, in contrast to Barack Obama's actual narrow victory in the state. That Republican shift in this year's electorate is consistent with what we're seeing across the country, and it's the biggest thing Marshall's going to have to overcome if she's going to win this fall.
The basic contours of the race remain unchanged. Burr is unpopular, while Marshall is unknown. For the seventh month in a row PPP finds more North Carolinians disapproving of Burr's work than giving him good marks- this month's spread is 38/42. Marshall's anonymity is limiting her ability to take full advantage of Burr's unpopularity though. She actually leads him 50-42 with voters who have an opinion about her, be it positive or negative. But only 46% of voters do have an opinion about her with 54% saying they don't know enough about her to have formed one.
North Carolina is ultimately going to be a resources issue for Democrats. Marshall can win the race but not without a lot of outside spending on her behalf. This is is the first time in the entire 2009-10 election cycle we've found Burr in a better position than Elizabeth Dole at a comparable time in 2007-2008 and that's because ads were being run in heavy rotation bashing Dole throughout the month of August last time. That didn't happen this year and Burr's in a stronger place because of it.
Burr has a 20 point lead with independents at 41-21, consistent with the sort of advantage PPP's been seeing for the GOP in North Carolina for most of the year. Burr has 75% of his party's vote locked up while Marshall is at 69% of Democrats.
North Carolina continues to clearly be Democrats' best chance to knock off a Republican incumbent. The question is just whether they'll have the money to do it.
Full results here