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More tea leaves on the Senate race

The Senate race is still wide open.

Two weeks after expected frontrunner Roy Cooper declined to run, anyone could conceivably announce a campaign and go on to win the nomination.

Still, the field has narrowed a bit. Here's a rundown:

TOP PROSPECTS: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee still prefers a name-brand candidate. To that end, they're putting pressure locally and in D.C. on their preferred candidate, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler of Waynesville. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton is also interested.

SECOND TIER: Iraq war vet Cal Cunningham and Durham lawyer Kenneth Lewis continue to test the waters with speeches before Democratic meetings and a Facebook group (for Cunningham) among other things. State Sen. Malcolm Graham and Dan Blue are dropping hints as well.

BLACK VOTERS: After Barack Obama's 2008 wins in North Carolina, black voters are excited about their 2010 prospects. Graham, Lewis or Blue could be the next hope to take up the mantle of two-time candidate Harvey Gantt. McIntyre, who has a number of black voters in his district, could also do well within the community.

LIBERAL VOTERS: By some accounts, Democratic primary voters in North Carolina are more liberal than they've been in the past. While Shuler or McIntyre would do well in a general election matchup with the conservative Sen. Richard Burr, they may have a tougher road in a primary fight with Cunningham, Lewis, Graham or Blue, who are more liberal.

The conventional wisdom right now is that Shuler is the establishment favorite and Cunningham the best of the dark horse candidates. A lot may depend on how well the various candidates do at fundraising.

Pollster wants to hear from you

A Democratic pollster wants to know who should run.

Raleigh firm Public Policy Polling is letting readers vote on its blog which of the following Democratic candidates it should poll against U.S. Sen. Richard Burr:

Former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, state Sen. Linda Garrou, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre.

The firm has already tested Attorney General Roy Cooper and U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, two far more likely candidates for the Democratic nomination.

But pollster Tom Jensen said they wanted to see how more obscure challengers might fare against Burr to test his vulnerability.

Votes will be taken here until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Like it or not, Dole is a rock star

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole is a rock star.

Some Dome readers who are not fans of the Salisbury Republican objected to our characterization of her as a "rock star" in a post today.

For the record, the term is a reflection of her name recognition and ability to woo voters on the stump, not an endorsement.

Still, don't take our word for it:

USA Today headline: "'Rock star' Dole protects lead in key Senate race." (July 1, 2002)

Durham Herald-Sun: "Dole had become a rock star of the political world without ever holding an elected office. (Sept. 5, 2002)

George Stephanopolous, former adviser to Bill Clinton and ABC News host: "She's a political rock star." (Char-O, Nov. 10, 2002)

Harvey Gantt, on Erskine Bowles' race against Richard Burr: "I don't think we're running against somebody who has the status of a rock star. ... I do not know Mr. Burr very well, but I would not think he has the status of a Liddy Dole." (Char-O, Sept. 25, 2003)

Bowles, again on Burr: "I'm not running against a rock star." (GN-R, Sept. 12, 2004)

Greensboro News & Record: "By contrast, political analysts frequently use the term 'rock star' to describe Dole's name recognition and appeal." (Sept. 5, 2007)

Charlotte Observer: "Pundits like to say she has rock-star qualities on the stump." (Char-O, Nov. 4, 2007)

Burr: "If you really want to know what Elizabeth Dole is like, she's a rock star." (N&O, Feb. 22, 2008)

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