As a long-time Tar Heel in my past life, N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall‘s campaign to unseat GOP Sen. Richard Burr has been on my radar for months. Burr — an ideological intellectual featherweight along the lines of Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell and former Sen. Lauch Faircloth — is the biggest political embarrassment to my home state since the retirement of the bizarre racist homophobe Jesse Helms.
Marshall is North Carolina’s first woman secretary of state — she defeated NASCAR legend Richard Petty for the job in 1996, 53 percent to 45 percent. She has been running a smart, effective campaign on a shoe string, but with no cash to buy ads, her polling has been so anemic that Sen. Burr has already taken a “victory lap” tour around the state. Talk about measuring the drapes.
One obstacle Marshall has faced is the perception outside the state, especially inside the Beltway and New York media circles, that it is difficult to elect Democrats in North Carolina. This misperception persists despite the fact that Pres. Obama won the state in 2008, that Democrats Sen. Kay Hagan and Gov. Bev Perdue were also elected that year and that Democrats have controlled both houses of the legislature for a decade or more. (Not to mention the fact that North Carolina has produced great Democrats like Sen. Sam Ervin, Sen./Gov.Terry Sanford, Gov. Jim Hunt, former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, current Mayor Mayor Anthony Foxx, Elizabeth Edwards and, what the heck, Andy Griffith.)
Lately, however, there have been signs of resurgence in the Marshall campaign. Yesterday, even Markos Moulitsas jumped on her bandwagon:
The most winnable race of the cycle the DSCC has ignored is the Senate race in North Carolina, where the party committee took one look at Democrat Elaine Marshall’s cash on hand numbers and decided to go play elsewhere. And yes, after the second quarter, it was bleak. After her protracted primary, Marshall had less than $200,000 in the bank compared to incumbent Republican Richard Burr’s $6 million.
Yet we’ve seen the last several cycles that the money race isn’t really about who has more, but whether the challenger has enough to get his or her message out and a political environment that is receptive to that message.
In North Carolina, Burr has never established any semblance of real popularity, and as such, was always a prime target. Yet Marshall’s money situation spurred Democrats to ignore Burr’s weaknesses — a decision that they may regret in two weeks.
The good news for Marshall is that she’s picking up undecided voters and closing the gap against Burr. She now trails by 8 points, 48-40, after facing a 13 point deficit against Burr three weeks ago. She’s starting to shore up her support with the base, getting 73 percent of Democrats compared to 65 percent in the previous poll.
And that base is getting larger as the level of interest from Democratic voters picks up with the election moving closer. In late September the likely voter pool for this year voted for John McCain by a 9 point margin, suggesting a massive drop in Democratic turnout given that Barack Obama actually won the state. Now the likely voter pool reflects an electorate that supported McCain by 4 points, still pointing to a decline in Democratic turnout but perhaps not as massive as it looked like it would be earlier in the cycle…
Interestingly the 42 percent of voters with a favorable opinion of Marshall actually exceeds the 40 percent who approve of Burr’s job performance.
Moulitsas also points to another positive signal for Marshall. Among ballots in early voting, Democrats have cast 43.5 percent of the votes compared to 38.8 percent for Republicans.
Tar Heel Democrats are coming home. As Markos put it, “This one ain’t over.”