An Unpredictable Democratic Primary Looms In Governor’s Race

Michael Bitzer

Now that Erskine Bowles has unfrozen the Democratic nomination fight, Pat McCrory and North Carolina Republicans must be thinking this has been a good week for them.

According to Public Policy Polling’s recent analysis, Bowles was the one Democrat who could bring an immediate challenge to McCrory and match the “generic” ballot between a Democrat and a Republican for the governor’s mansion, 46-45 percent.

North Carolina Democrats are now left with a relatively unknown field across the state.  And generally, when lesser-known candidates populate the field, a major primary battle tends to loom with the best campaign approach based on tearing down the other candidates.

So far, Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, State Rep. Bill Faison and former Congressman Bob Etheridge are candidates. Others names being mentioned include retiring Congressmen Brad Miller and Mike McIntyre.  All of them are credible candidates, but when pitted against McCrory, the obvious weakness arises out of their lack of state-wide recognition. 

In the PPP poll, all of the Democratic candidates fail to break into single digits against the presumptive Republican nominee.

In terms of the “generic” ballot, PPP found that 82 percent of self-identified Democrats would vote for their party’s “generic” nominee, while 91 percent of self-identified Republicans support their party’s “generic” nominee.  But parties don’t run a “generic” candidate on the November ballot, and McCrory’s favorability and name recognition (only 24 percent are unsure of their opinion of him) give him the immediate advantage.

Another positive for McCrory is the fact that he pulls anywhere from 15 to 19 percent support from the Democratic opposition.  Based on 2008’s exit polls, we can expect to see North Carolina Democrats stick with their party 88 percent of the time; Republicans 90 percent.  North Carolina Democratic candidates will certainly need their own party base to stick with them. While they make up 43 percent of the registered voters in the state, any significant defections will certainly make it that much harder for them to win. 

The great unknown is what do unaffiliated and independent voters think. So far, by a 46 to 30 percent spread, self-identified Independents lean to the “generic” Republican over the Democrat—but a quarter of Independents are still “not sure” of their political preference.

Winning elections means cobbling together a winning coalition of voters, and in this tightly competitive state, any minute defection—by either partisan camp or a slight shift in the indies — will make for an unpredictable season of electoral predictions.


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