Friday, December 21, 2007

The Political Scene in the Mountains

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. We'll be posting these over the next week. First up is Western North Carolina.

John Edwards and Mike Huckabee are the most popular Presidential candidates in their own parties in western North Carolina, according to recent surveys conducted by Raleigh’s Public Policy Polling. But Rudy Giuliani is the most popular candidate with the public at large in WNC.

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 WNC voters about next year’s candidates.

On the Democratic side, John Edwards has been more popular with his home state voters in western North Carolina than any other region of the state. Hillary Clinton has led in many state wide polls of Democrats, but Edwards has led in the mountains nearly every month, most recently leading Clinton 38-34 in a December poll. Interestingly Barack Obama has earned very little support from people likely to vote in the Democratic primary in the region, always finishing well behind Clinton and Edwards among WNC voters.

For the Republicans, Fred Thompson was the top candidate for most of 2007 but his standing has fallen to third. Mike Huckabee, who recently visited western North Carolina, took a large lead over Rudy Giuliani in the most recent poll. Huckabee had 34% to 19% for Giuliani among Republicans in the mountains who responded.

Edwards and Huckabee might be the most popular candidates with each of their parties, but the candidate who would fare best in a general election in WNC is Rudy Giuliani. Public Policy Polling tested nine possible matchups for the presidency and found that he would lead Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by large margins in the region if either of them was the Democratic nominee. Giuliani’s lead over Edwards was just 51-44, and the poll showed that the former senator from North Carolina would beat either Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney in the mountains if either of them ended up being the choice of the Republicans.

In the Democratic race for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue had a big lead in the region over Treasurer Richard Moore in September but has seen the margin decline every month since to the point that Moore led Perdue 35-30 in the December poll. So far Perdue has led all of the polls on a statewide level. Neither of the candidates has shown much interest or spent much time traveling to western North Carolina so far during the campaign so the region is probably up for grabs to the candidate who works harder to court the support of mountain voters in 2008.

One candidate who has been traveling regularly to the region is senator Fred Smith, one of the Republican candidates for Governor, who has attended numerous BBQs on his behalf in small towns over the last few months. After finishing third behind opponents Bill Graham and Bob Orr in our September poll, Smith has taken the lead by increasingly greater margins in our last three polls. Traveling to places like Brevard, Robbinsville, and Marion has clearly helped his standing with WNC Republicans.

Several Democratic candidates from western North Carolina seeking statewide office are getting a good deal of support from voters in their neck of the woods. Buncombe County commissioner David Young, who is running for Treasurer, has been basically tied in the statewide polls with his main opponent, senator Janet Cowell from Wake County. But in the mountain region, Young has a significant lead.

Another statewide candidate from the area is Canton mayor Pat Smathers, who is seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor. He has been running a narrow second in the polls behind senator Walter Dalton of Rutherford County, but has received the greatest amount of support from his home region in most of our polls.

It’s early but it is clear that from the top of the ballot on down the way western North Carolina votes could have a significant impact on who wins the statewide races next year. As a region where neither Democrats or Republicans dominate the vote, candidates in close races will need to take it seriously to come out on top.

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