Democrats' problems in next year's race for Governor of North Carolina go well beyond Bev Perdue. PPP's newest statewide survey finds that a trio of potential Democratic candidates in the event of a Perdue retirement- Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, and state senator Dan Blue- would all start out trailing presumptive Republican nominee Pat McCrory by a significant margin. This is not a situation where if Perdue decided to step aside her party would all the sudden be even money to hold the Governor's office- the GOP will start out ahead in this race regardless of who the Democratic candidate ends up being.
After hitting a high point in December Perdue's numbers continue to slide back in the wrong direction. 30% of voters now approve of her with 52% disapproving, the worst her numbers have been since posting identical figures last August. Perdue's decline since December is across the board rather than coming primarily with one voter bloc- with Democrats she's down from 55% to 50% approval, with Republicans she's gone from 15% to 10%, and with independents her drop is from 26% to 21%. We're seeing Gubernatorial approval ratings across the country plummet in the first part of this year- budget time just does not tend to win Governors a whole lot of friends.
Perdue trails Pat McCrory 50-36 this month in a hypothetical rematch of their 2008 contest. Because Perdue's numbers are so poor there's been a lot of speculation about whether she might decide not to run again or whether another Democrat might take her out in the primary. We tested some alternate nominees for the party this month but their prospects don't look great either. Cooper does better than Perdue, trailing by only an 8 point margin at 43-35. But Dalton and Blue each do worse, trailing by 20 point margins at 47-27 and 48-28 respectively. Democrats would be facing an uphill battle with any candidate.
Cooper is mostly unknown statewide- 56% of voters have no opinion about him- but his numbers with the folks that do know him are impressive. 27% have a favorable opinion of him to 18% with an unfavorable one and that includes positive numbers with both Democrats (32/17) and Republicans (26/18). Cooper is probably the only politician in the state who has more voters across party lines that like him than dislike him. That appeal to GOP voters is also the biggest reason why Cooper performs better than Perdue against McCrory- he trails by 63 points with Republicans at 75-12 but that's a lot better than her 75 point deficit at 83-8.
Cooper might not be terribly well known but he's a celebrity at this point compared to Blue and Dalton. Only 33% of voters know Blue well enough to have an opinion about him and Dalton's even lower at 31%. That low name recognition means that their poll deficits are artificially high. 28% of Democrats are undecided in a Blue/McCrory match while only 14% of Republicans are and that gap is even wider for the Dalton match up with 32% of Democrats undecided to only 13% of Republicans. If either of those folks were to become the party nominee the base would likely rally around them and bring these margins a lot closer but make no mistake, they'd still be starting out double digits behind.
Right now North Carolinians are ready to elect a Republican Governor for the first time in more than two decades. Democrats' greatest ally is time- there's a long way to go and depending on how the new GOP legislative majority conducts itself over the next 20 months voters may change their minds about whether Republican control of state government is a particularly desirable outcome. If we voted today though there's little doubt McCrory would be elected Governor against anyone the Democrats put forward.
Full results here