Local Politics

Democrat pollster: N.C. Republicans have advantage in November

Posted September 3, 2010
Updated September 7, 2010

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— Three months out from the November election and polls are showing that most voters are not happy with the Democratic majority in Congress or the state legislature.

A new generic ballot from Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based Democrat polling company, shows Republicans with a 49-41 margin over Democrats in legislative races.

At their statewide campaign kickoff, Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder sounding more confident than they've been in a long time.

“The entire 20th Century passed us by with Republicans sitting on the sidelines, and that changes this year,” said State GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer.

The political climate is tense considering the relatively unpopular Democrat president and governor, ongoing concerns about the Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation, all in the midst of an unstable economy.

“We think all that adds up to a historically good opportunity for Republicans to run in North Carolina,” Fetzer said.

Veteran Democratic strategist Gary Pearce says Democrats are now getting the blame for the bad economy they hung around Republicans’ necks in 2008.

“We know there's a storm coming. We're just hoping to survive,” he said.

Several prominent senate Democrats won't be running this fall, plus several House members, from Majority Leader Hugh Holliman to newcomer Chris Heagarty, face tough races. But, unlike the 1994 Republican surge, Pearce says Democrats won't be surprised this year.

“The bad news is the climate looks bad for Democrats this year. The good news is the election is not today,” Pearce said.

Democrats have long controlled the General Assembly. Going into November, they hold a 16-seat advantage in the house and a 10-seat majority in the Senate. The question is can the GOP pick off enough of those seats to reverse the balance of power?

“I think it’s theoretically possible they could. I think it’s unlikely that they're going to do it in a cake walk,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.

For months, his company's computers and automated phone banks have sampled voters leaning toward a new majority.

“Republicans have a clear advantage and they have a huge advantage with independents,” he said.

Debnam points out local politics still matter, especially in legislative contests. Democrats don't intend to give up control of the statehouse, but anxious Republicans feel poised to take it away.

A lot is riding on control of the General Assembly. It's nearly time to redraw legislative and congressional district lines, and the majority party has more say in that process.

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