Raleigh, N.C. — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole is supported by many North Carolina voters whom other Republican candidates haven't reached, according to a new WRAL News poll.
Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. surveyed 800 likely voters statewide between last Wednesday and Friday and found Dole leads Democratic challenger Kay Hagan by 46 to 42 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
"The big surprise compared to where we all were in the summer is that this race is even competitive," Democratic strategist Gary Pearce said.
Dole leads Hagan in all regions of the state except for the Triangle, where Hagan has a 19-point lead, and northeastern counties, where they are tied, according to the poll. Unlike Republican presidential candidate John McCain and gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, she runs strongly in eastern North Carolina.
"A lot of the old-time, conservative Democrats down east are sticking with her," said John Davis, who's tracked political races for more than two decades as an independent consultant and former president of non-partisan political research business association NCFREE.
Dole also holds a 53 to 33 percent lead in the Triad, where Hagan built her political career as a state senator. Davis said he wasn't surprised by the results since most of the areas in her district outside of Guilford County are traditionally Republican.
"Right now, the Triangle is the strength of the Hagan campaign, and she needs a huge turnout here if she wants to be victorious on election night," said Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic consultant.
Those surveyed said Dole was the better candidate to handle issues from the economy to national security to illegal immigration. Hagan got the nod among respondents only on the issue of health care.
Despite her advantage, the 9 percent of voters who said they were still undecided could signal a Dole defeat on Election Day, Davis said.
Twelve percent of female voters, 13 percent of black voters, 12 percent of independents and 14 percent of voters under age 35 said they hadn't decided whom to back in the Senate race, according to the poll. Hagan leads Dole in each of those categories.
"Dole has been on the center stage for 40 years, and people know her and what she stands for," Davis said. "A lot of them aren't willing to commit to her, but they feel they don't know Hagan well enough yet to commit to her either."
He said he thinks the nation's anti-incumbent mood will tilt many of the undecided voters into Hagan's column before next Tuesday.
Dole has both a higher favorable rating and a higher unfavorable rating among voters than Hagan, who remains an unknown to almost 30 percent of those polled.
"That's a symbol of the fact that Hagan started as an unknown and has a long way to go and hasn't quite gotten there yet," Republican strategist Carter Wrenn said.