Raleigh, N.C. — Republican Pat McCrory is cruising toward a victory in the gubernatorial race, holding a 12-point lead over Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton with five weeks left before the election, according to a WRAL News poll released Tuesday.
SurveyUSA polled 573 likely voters statewide between Saturday and Monday and found that 51 percent would vote for McCrory if the election were held now, compared with 39 percent for Dalton and 3 percent for Libertarian candidate Barbara Howe. Seven percent remain undecided.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
"Even though we've got five weeks and a couple of debates, it's a very difficult task that (Dalton) faces," said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh.
In a WRAL News poll conducted shortly after the May primary, McCrory held a slim 44 to 39 percent margin, and he has built on his support among key constituencies in recent months to stretch that lead.
The former Charlotte mayor has gained among male voters, now holding a 57 to 34 percent lead. That compares with a 47 to 35 percent margin in May.
Among voters age 50 or older, McCrory now holds a 58 to 35 percent lead, up from 44 to 43 percent five months ago. Meanwhile, Dalton has cut into McCrory's margin among younger voters and now trails by 44 to 43 percent for voters ages 18 to 49. In May, McCrory held a 44 to 35 percent margin with that group.
McCrory also expanded from his Charlotte base to turn what had been Dalton strongholds in other parts of the state to his advantage. In the Triad, for example, McCrory now leads 58 to 31 percent – even larger than his 58 to 34 percent lead in Charlotte – compared with a 43 to 36 percent Dalton lead there in May.
In eastern North Carolina, Dalton had led 53 to 32 percent after the primary, but McCrory now has a 50 to 42 percent advantage there. Dalton was able to turn the tables on McCrory in the Triangle, leading there now 48 to 38 percent after trailing 44 to 36 percent in May.
Latino voters also have turned in favor of Dalton, switching from a 52 to 13 percent McCrory lead in May to a 62 to 36 percent margin for the lieutenant governor now. Latinos account for only 7 percent of those surveyed, however.
The latest poll also shows Dalton is having trouble connecting with independents and voters dissatisfied with President Barack Obama. McCrory has a 20-point lead among independents, and he has 12 percent support of people who plan to vote for Obama. Dalton, however, picks up only 4 percent of voters who plan to back Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"It doesn't reflect at all any coattail effect from Obama going down to Dalton," McLennan said.
Traditional Democratic efforts to get out the vote before Election Day also don't appear to help Dalton much, according to the poll. While Obama has a 20-point lead among people planning to vote early, Dalton's lead among that group is only 50 to 42 percent. McCrory has leads of 25 points or more among people who plan to vote absentee or cast ballots on Election Day.
In the race to succeed Dalton as lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Forest holds a slim 46 to 43 percent lead over Democrat Linda Coleman. Eleven percent remain undecided.
Forest, a Wake Forest architect, is the son of longtime Congresswoman Sue Myrick. Coleman is a former state lawmaker and state personnel director.
"This is a very strange election," McLennan said. "The president doesn't have coattails, and then, McCrory doesn't appear to right now."
Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson holds a 47 to 41 percent lead over Republican challenger John Tedesco, with 12 percent undecided.
Tedesco is a Wake County Board of Education member, but Atkinson leads among Triangle voters by a 54 to 33 percent margin, according to the poll.
"June Atkinson has been in the position a long time and has more name recognition. John Tedesco has some work to do," McLennan said.