Monday, December 24, 2007

Dems looking good in eastern North Carolina

Note: As we head toward 2008, PPP is writing a series of columns for newspapers across the state outlining what our polls have shown in their region in 2007. Today's focuses on the 252 area code that encompasses most of eastern North Carolina:

It’s shaping up to be a pretty Democratic year in eastern North Carolina as long as the presidential nominee is John Edwards or Hillary Clinton, according to recent surveys conducted by Raleigh’s Public Policy Polling.

Public Policy Polling has conducted monthly polls in 2007 about the various statewide races we will have in North Carolina next year. One of the ways we analyze our results is by region, so as we enter 2008 it seems worth taking a look at the attitudes of eastern North Carolina voters about next year’s candidates.

Edwards or Clinton would lead all three of the top Republican contenders- Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney- in eastern North Carolina if the presidential election was today. Edwards would be a particularly strong candidate. He leads Romney 61-39, Huckabee 58-33, and Giuliani 50-36 in the region.

Barack Obama appears to be the weakest potential Democratic candidate in eastern North Carolina. He loses potential contests against all three Republican candidates. Ironically though, he was the top choice of Democrats in the eastern part of the state in the most recent poll for primary voters, earning 29% support compared to 27% for Edwards and 20% for Clinton. It’s a situation where Obama may be the most popular choice for Democrats in the region, but Edwards is their best shot at regaining the presidency.

In the race for Governor if there’s one thing that’s clear it’s that eastern North Carolinians love their native daughter, Bev Perdue of New Bern. Month after month she leads her primary opponent Richard Moore by large margins in the eastern part of the state, with margins ranging from 17 to 26% in polls over the last four months. Her lead has usually only been in the single digits on a statewide basis so her very strong performance in the eastern part of the state could be key for snagging the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican side, state senator Fred Smith from Johnston County trailed trial lawyer Bill Graham for most of the year in the region but has recently taken the lead. Smith has been working hard to court eastern North Carolina voters. Just in the last month he has appeared at events in Lenoir, Greene, Edgecombe, Nash, Chowan, and Hertford counties as part of his statewide BBQ tour. That hard work has paid off with his standing going to 25% compared to 10% for Bob Orr and 8% for Bill Graham in the most recent poll of the primary.

When it comes to the general election though, Bev Perdue is the candidate of choice. Her lead in eastern North Carolina ranges from 26 points over Fred Smith to 31 points over Bill Graham. Since her leads over the three announced Republican candidates only range from 4 to 9 points across the whole state of North Carolina, her strong standing in her home region will be a key factor in whether she is successful or not.

There are several Republicans from eastern North Carolina running for statewide offices and early polling shows each of them doing very well in the primary on their own turf. Bill Daughtridge, a legislator from Rocky Mount, is seeking the nomination for Treasurer against Dale Folwell of Forsyth County and has a double digit lead in the polls in this part of the state. That has allowed him to take a small statewide lead. Greg Dority of Washington, who has previously run for Congress against G.K. Butterfield, is seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor. He has a one point lead over senator Robert Pittenger of Mecklenburg County for the first poll conducted in that race and that slight advantage is easily attributable to the 14 point lead he has in this part of the state.

Eastern North Carolina is a region that is ancestrally Democratic and still has a high percentage of registered Democrats. The voting trends in recent years though have been more toward the Republican side. Based on the current polling it looks like in 2008 the shift could be back toward the Democrats, particularly if their nominees for President and Governor are John Edwards and Bev Perdue. If that does turn out to be the case, doing a good job of getting out the vote in this region will be a key to Democratic success in North Carolina next year.

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