Thursday, September 01, 2016

Race of the Day- North Carolina U.S. Senate

67 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Far more than the average state, North Carolina has been known to throw its U.S. Senators out of office. It has happened to both Democrats and Republicans in recent years, but most often they are freshmen Senators. Thus, it might be harder to dislodge Republican Richard Burr, who is seeking his third, and he says his final, term in office.

Burr, who first came to Congress as part of the House Freshman Class of 1994, has been underestimated as a candidate before, but both his 2004 and 2010 Senate wins were by somewhat larger than expected margin. This cycle, there is talk that Burr may be vulnerable, as many Democrat friendly voters continue to move into the Tar Heel State, and with the incumbent being outfundraised as of late by his Democrat opponent.  Burr has been a bit more willing to embrace the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump than most Senators, saying he entered politics as a businessman outsider running an unconventional campaign as well, but is still keeping an arm's length. If there truly is a national tide against Trump and on behalf of Democrats, Burr might very well be swept up in the wave, but otherwise, he has to be considered at least a slight favorite for reelection, against an opponent with a lot of vulnerabilities.

In truth, Democrats did not get a candidate they really wanted to face Burr into this contest. Attorney General Roy Cooper is running for Governor, where he stands a strong chance of winning, and others also sat the race out, including former U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, who lost in the GOP wave of 2014. There was thought that a more Democrat friendly electorate in 2016 could help her make a comeback, but she did not make the race. It looked like Chris Rey, the African-American Mayor of the small town of Spring Lake would be their top recruit, but late in the process, former State Representative Deborah Ross entered the contest, competing to become the third woman elected to the Senate from North Carolina this century.

In the March primary, Ross won easily with over 60 percent of the vote. Like North Carolina Democrat's Gubernatorial primary, a white candidate defeated an African-American as their main competitor. On the same day, Burr received just slightly more votes than Ross and also slightly below her vote percentage total in the GOP primary. He had been challenged by three candidates, including Greg Brannon, a Tea Party backed physician, who lost a competitive Senate primary in 2014. The North Carolina Senate primary was the only federal office to be voted on that day as legal battles over House districts brought about a revised later primary date for the House races, with no run-offs allowed this cycle only.

Burr's somewhat anemic primary win signified that a significant portion of North Carolina Republicans are not all that satisfied with him. Still, it was never really that close, unlike some recent past cycles where GOP incumbents either went down in the primary process or faced even more difficult battles. It is worth noting that two time Libertarian Senate nominee, Sean Haugh, a pizza deliveryman, is running again. He received a lot of media attention in as a potential spoiler in the very close battleground race in 2014, that ultimately went Republican.

Burr started off the general election with a modest polling lead over Ross, but besides the Trump factor, there has been lots of controversy regarding positions taken by North Carolina's Republican Governor and state legislature and Democrats are believed to be very motivated to show up and vote. Burr has also been criticized for not taking his political campaign as serious as he should, and bad memories of Elizabeth Dole's 2008 ouster, during the last Senate race in the state to coincide with a Presidential race might also linger.

While polls have continued to show Burr up by a few points over Ross, there is some belief that she might have momentum, much in the way that Kay Hagan did in 2008. Just today, news came down that Republicans must be nervous, because the Senate Leadership Fund SuperPAC is planning to jump into the contest with considerable financial resources. That could wind up being bad news for Ross as attack ads may succeed in defining her to the voters of the state, where she is still not very well known. As the former state ACLU director, Ross runs the risk of being portrayed as too liberal for North Carolina.

Ultimately,  Burr, who at the age of 60 says he is running his last race, will have to make the case why he deserves six more years, but  painting an opponent as a bad alternative never hurts either. If Donald Trump is not too toxic and the North Carolina Republican brand not too damaging in November, Burr will probably survive.

Burr campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far:
7 D (5 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
16 R (4 Safe, 5 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup)

Overall predicted thus far: 43 D, 46 R


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