The (surprisingly close) NC Senate race

I’ve been meaning to write a post on the NC Senate race for over a week now, but I’ve finally gotten around to it.  Nothing against Deborah Ross who I’ve met and I like, but she’s clearly not the strongest candidate the Democrats could have potentially put forward.  A former state legislator without any leadership position is not the most impressive resume.  I had been thinking that her relative weakness as a challenger might make this race easier for Burr than it should be in what is a tough year for Republican senators in blue and purple states.

But, let’s give Ross some credit; I was wrong.  Here’s Thomas Mills:

The US Senate race in North Carolina is getting more attention and Republicans are getting more nervous. Yesterday, Real Clear Politics moved the race from Lean Republican to Toss Up, indicating challenger Deborah Ross is going to give incumbent Republican Richard Burr a run for his money. And a Roll Call article this morning says the Democrats path to a Senate majority may run through North Carolina

Ross has impressed the political world. She out-raised Burr two quarters in a row and quickly put together a statewide campaign. Last week, she was the only challenger offered a chance to speak at a DSCC briefing for donors. Ross is clearly seen as one of the cycle’s rising stars.

That’s huge.  I wasn’t sure Ross would perform strong enough to earn the outside money that the DSCC and the SuperPAC’s spend so strategically.  Well, she sure has.  And if her fundraising isn’t enough, she’s doing really well in the polls, too:

Down the ballot, incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr is trailing Democratic challenger Deborah Ross in North Carolina by two points among registered voters, 46 percent to 44 percent. (Last month, Burr was ahead by seven points, 48 percent to 41 percent.)

Wow!  Even if that poll is over-estimating her support, that is some serious movement in the polls that very likely represents something real.  At this point, the race looks like a toss-up, and for Democrats, that is a great thing.  In an interview with a reporter yesterday, he wondered about the impact of her being an ACLU lawyer.  Those of us over 40 remember Michael Dukakis attacked as a “card-carrying member” of the ACLU in 1988, but I wonder about how effective that line of attack is in 2016.  My prediction is we’re about to find out (my guess– not all that effective any more).  This may drive Ross down a bit, but I just don’t know.  The person who’s really got to worry about being pulled down, though, is Richard Burr, through no fault of his own.  Harry Enten:

Unless Trump’s position improves, Republicans will be able to maintain control of the Senate only if enough voters split their tickets, voting Republican for the Senate but not in the presidential race. And the polls suggest that could happen: The Republican candidate for Senate is leading in a number of states where Trump is facing a deficit. At the moment, Sen. Marco Rubio is up in Florida, Joe Heck is ahead in Nevada (which would be a Republican pickup of Sen. Harry Reid’s seat), Sen. Richard Burr leads in North Carolina, Sen. Rob Portman is holding off Ted Strickland in Ohio, and Sen. Pat Toomey is hanging on in Pennsylvania.

But all those Republican candidates are leading by 5 percentage points or less. In the last presidential election cycle, 2012, a numberofRepublicanSenate candidates faded down the stretch, and some, such as Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, lost healthy-sized leads as the summer turned to fall. In an era in which fewer people are splitting their tickets, the advantages currently enjoyed by the Republican candidates for Senate aren’t secure. If Trump’s troubles continue or worsen, he could take down these Republican candidates with them…

In other words, voters’ views on Trump may be influencing their Senate vote. If that happens across the country and Trump continues to trail, it could lead to a Democratic majority in the Senate come 2017.


Of course, that remains to be seen, but my guess is that Trump makes this Senate race closer– to the Democrats’ benefit– than it otherwise would be.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The (surprisingly close) NC Senate race

  1. itchy says:

    Is it just Trump dragging down Burr? Or is Hillary’s presidential nomination a factor here? If the Dems had put forward a man, would he have been as competitive?

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