The upheaval from the legislative session continues to reverberate as lawmakers look at what it did for their prospects in 2014. Voters are wavering, Republicans are openly discussing a course-correction next year and the N.C. Democratic Party is trying to capitalize. And now, it's showing in legislative district polls.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in Raleigh, recently looked at eight state Senate districts held by Republicans, finding two leaning Democrat and six more in the toss-up category. PPP pollster Tom Jensen writes that "the political landscape has shifted in such a way that Democrats have a lot more opportunities to eat into the Republican majority next year than could have ever been imagined even six months ago."
It's still early, and much will change, but the early look illuminates the battleground in the 13 months ahead. Writing in a polling memo released to Dome on Wednesday, Jensen sees the numbers as a reflection of three things: the unpopularity of the Republican legislature, the decline in Gov. Pat McCrory's poll numbers and unknown and unpopular incumbent lawmakers.
The McCrory line fits some conventional Democratic wisdom these days, though Republican polls looking at legislative districts privately dismiss the suggestion. But GOP strategists who've conducted polling in recent weeks say they are finding ticket-splitting voters break toward Democrats right now. (It's unclear why PPP picked these districts to poll, some are swing districts but the Senate is widely expected to remain strongly Republican next session.)
Here's a quick take on what Jensen thinks the polling shows:
-- Senate District 9, Thom Goolsby, Wilmington: Best pickup opportunity for Democrats at this point with Goolsby down by 12 points to a generic Democrat with a majority (52 percent) disapproving of his performance.
--Senate District 19, Wesley Meredith, Fayetteville: A generic Democrat was up 7 percentage points against the two-term lawmaker in the only district a Republican held in the state Senate that Barack Obama won in 2012.
--Senate District 1, Bill Cook, Chocowinty: This coastal district as the closest race in the state in 2012 and its a dead heat again with McCrory slightly more unpopular here compared to the rest of the state
--Senate District 12, Ron Rabin, Spring Lake: Democrats appear tied in a district that McCrory won by 24 points in 2012. Rabin is unknown by half his voters.
--Senate District 15, Neal Hunt, Raleigh: McCrory won this district by 19 points but his unfavorable rating is now 53 percent in this district. Hunt is still up slightly, but within the margin of error.
--Senate District 17, Tamara Barringer, Cary: A possible sign that unknown lawmakers are being pasted with the general unpopularity of the GOP legislature. About 65 percent of her district doesn't have an opinion on her performance but those who do lean unfavorably.
--Senate District 18, Chad Barefoot, Wake Forest: Another virtual tie with a lawmaker who has higher unfavorable ratings than favorable but with most of those polled unsure about him.
--Senate District 50, Jim Davis, Franklin: The lawmaker, the legislature and the governor -- as in many of these districts -- are all more unpopular among those who know them. Another close race for Davis is likely.
Read Jensen's full analysis and take a look at the numbers here. The polls margin of error ranges from 3.6 to 4.4 percent depending on district. It was not conducted for any campaign, PPP says, though surely helps Democrats get the lay of the land.
Ray Martin, a spokesman for the N.C. Senate Republican Caucus, is skeptical of the numbers. "Respected national experts have discredited their dishonest methodology and destroyed their credibility," he said, referring to a recent New Republic story that raised questions about PPP but didn't name sources. "Not only will we defend all 33 Senate seats in 2014, but there are great opportunities to make gains."