Thursday, December 27, 2007

Edwards nomination vital to Democratic success in southeastern 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 area encompassing the Sandhills and southeastern North Carolina:

The Republican presidential nominee will win the Sandhills and southeastern North Carolina by a good margin unless John Edwards is the Democratic nominee, according to recent surveys conducted by Raleigh’s Public Policy Polling. Republican candidates for Governor would also be strongly favored in the region.

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 voters in the Sandhills and southeastern North Carolina about next year’s candidates.

For much of the year Fred Thompson has been the leading Republican for President in the region. He had a solid lead in the polls for this part of the state as recently as November. But the surge of Mike Huckabee’s candidacy has badly hurt Thompson’s standing. In the most recent poll Huckabee led with 39% followed by Rudy Giuliani with 21% and Thompson fell to third at 15%.

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton has been the top choice among local respondents by a significant margin even with native son John Edwards in the race. Her leads over him in the region were 38-21 and 40-21 in the last two polls.

When it comes to polling for the general election though, Edwards is the Democrats’ best hope. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would both be soundly defeated in southeastern North Carolina by any Republican nominee out of frontrunners Huckabee, Giuliani, and Mitt Romney. But if the Democrats choose John Edwards, the race tightens considerably. He would be tied 49-49 against Huckabee, would trail Giuliani 50-48, and would have a 51-44 deficit against Mitt Romney. The only way there will be a close race in this part of the state is a John Edwards nomination.

In the Governor’s race Bev Perdue is the Democrat of choice, not particularly surprising given that she hails from eastern North Carolina. She has had a double digit lead over opponent Richard Moore each of the last three months.

On the Republican side, Bill Graham, a trial lawyer and native of Harnett County has led for most of the year. But there has been a recent increase in support for Fred Smith, a senator from Johnston County. The most recent poll shows Smith leading Graham by a tight 26-21 margin in the region.

When it comes to the general election though, pretty much any of the Republicans would start with a strong leg up on the Democratic nominee. The four potential GOP nominees (Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory and former Supreme Court judge Bob Orr in addition to Smith and Graham) lead seven out of eight potential general election races in southeastern North Carolina. The only exception is a tie between Perdue and Smith.

When it comes to the Governor’s race the results in the region are pretty out of line with the rest of North Carolina, which shows Bev Perdue winning against all four possible Republican opponents and Moore victorious in two out of four matchups. But this is not surprising given that southeastern North Carolina has tended to be a pretty Republican area in recent years.

2008 is looking to be a better year for Democrats in North Carolina than most in recent memory. Our polls show that if John Edwards was the presidential nominee he would likely win the state, and although Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are trailing the margins are not as bad as they have been for most Democratic nominees in the last few decades.

That trend makes it even more important than usual for Republicans to work hard to get out their voters in places like southeastern North Carolina that tend to be more favorable to their candidates. The election is a long way off but there will surely be a flurry of political activity in this region next year.

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