RALEIGH, N.C. — National media outlets have labeled Gov. Bev Perdue one of the country's most vulnerable incumbents in the 2012 elections, and her poll numbers, which have been down for months, reflect that possibility.
A possible primary challenger for Perdue is Democratic state Rep. Bill Faison, who has been cagey about his election plans. However, his statewide appearances and recent $500,000 loan to his own campaign have left some wondering if he'll challenge Perdue.
If he does, it will mark the first time a sitting North Carolina governor has faced a primary since 1980, according to North Carolina State University professor Steve Greene.
"It's a sign that you've got a weak incumbent when you get a primary for president, governor, senator, whatever. It's not a good thing for that incumbent," Green said.
That's not the only sign. New numbers from Democrat-affiliated Public Policy Polling put Perdue 11 points behind Republican challenger Pat McCrory. At this point in 2008, she led McCrory by two points. PPP also reported that one in four Democrats said they'll vote for McCrory.
Perdue's approval numbers are down, too, at just 50 percent in her own party. Green says some of that is probably the economy.
"This is the exact type of scenario where you do see primary challengers – whether it's president, governor, senator – when times are bad and people are unhappy," he said.
Democrat Debra McHenry isn't calling for a primary, but she said she likes Faison's message on jobs and schools.
"I think that we need to be having a plan on the table and to be talking about these issues," she said.
Progressive blogger James Protzman, who founded the state’s best known Democratic blog, BlueNC.com, said a primary might help defeat the marriage amendment in May.
"The marriage discrimination amendment is a huge, giant and terrible thing, and I don’t want to see that pass. So, if we have to have a primary to stop it, I’m OK with that," he said.
Protzman says he isn't surprised by Perdue's poor poll numbers.
"I think people are upset with her in lots of ways. I’m upset with her. I’m upset with her on the death penalty, for example. But you can’t be a single issue voter on this stuff. You have to go with the net/net. And the net/net is that she’s good on the issues that I care mostly about," he said.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley said he isn't worried about Perdue's poll numbers or her fundraising, and he doesn't think she'll face a primary.
"What that tells me is that the governor's not campaigning yet. What that tells me is she's focused on governing," he said. "As soon as we start full-fledged campaign mode, I think Democrats come home, I think swing and independent voters pay attention, and I think Pat McCrory's going to have his hands full."
Perdue's campaign declined to comment.