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The takeaway from PPP’s latest poll is that the unpopularity of the state legislature are hurting Republicans in head-to-head matchups with Kay Hagan. Hagan is at 49% against all challengers and leads everyone by double-digits. Virginia Foxx continues to lead the Republican primary, though most observers think she will pass on the race.

That said, I think that PPP’s sample here is too unfavorable to Republicans. While I’m certain that the state legislature is unpopular and that McCrory’s approval has dropped, I certainly don’t believe his numbers have plummeted by 15 points. So take these numbers against Hagan with a grain of salt. The last poll probably more accurately reflects reality.

Republican field
(Numbers in parentheses indicate change in support from last month)
Undecided – 35% (+8)
Foxx – 16% (-7)
Berger- 11% (no change)
Cain – 11% (+3)
Ellmers – 11% (+2)
Brannon – 7% (no change)
Tillis – 5% (-4)
Wheeler – 3% (no change)
Harris – 1% (-3)

Republicans are still undecided in terms of their primary preference. Foxx still leads but by a much reduced margin. Cain and Ellmers have improved, Tillis and Harris have dropped. After getting 9% last month, Tillis has dropped to 5%. But the inclusion of several contenders unlikely to run likely renders the poll useless. We still don’t know the intentions of Berger, Cain, and Ellmers. Whatever clues we do have about their intentions are ambiguous.

General election
Hagan 49, Berger 39 (-6)
Hagan 49, Brannon 39 (-6)
Hagan 49, Tillis 38 (-6)
Hagan 49, Foxx 37 (-5)
Hagan 49, Cain 36 (-5)
Hagan 49, Ellmers 36 (-6)
Hagan 49, Harris 35 (-5)
Hagan 49, Wheeler 34 (-6)

None of the Republican contenders are within single digits of Hagan. The two closest are Phil Berger and Greg Brannon, who each trail by 10 points. Foxx loses by 12. Wheeler does the worst against Hagan, losing by 15, probably a result of lack of name recognition than anything else. Overall, all Republicans lost 5 or 6 points in general election matchups against Hagan since last month.

Favorable/Unfavorable (general election voters)
Hagan 43/45 (-2)
Foxx 23/31 (-8)
Cain 9/19 (-10)
Harris 9/19 (-10)
Wheeler 9/20 (-11)
Ellmers 12/26 (-14)
Brannon 7/22 (-15)
Berger 11/31 (-20)
Tillis 12/32 (-20)

No candidate has a positive favorability, which could mean that NC is in for a lesser of two evils contest in 2014. But Hagan does the best, having only a slightly negative -2 approval rating. Of the Republican contenders, Virginia Foxx actually has the best favorability statewide. The two legislative leaders have the worst, at -20. Keep in mind that past polls have shown a tendency for 10% of voters to automatically give a candidate they do not know about a negative rating.

Favorable/Unfavorable (primary election voters)
Foxx 28/21 (+7)
Tillis 19/22 (-3)
Ellmers 16/22 (-6)
Harris 7/18 (-11)
Berger 14/26 (-12)
Brannon 7/19 (-12)
Cain 8/21 (-13)
Wheeler 7/20 (-13)

Further evidence for voters’ tendency to assign a negative rating to candidates they don’t know about are the favorability ratings for Jim Cain and Lynn Wheeler. There’s no way nearly 30% of Republicans have formed an opinion of these two people. So take it with another grain of salt, these numbers can be changed with ease. Republicans don’t much like anyone, save for Foxx, who has a +7 favorability. But Tillis is not far behind, with a -3 favorability.

The bottom line: it’s very possible that Republicans could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and give Hagan a second term because of the unpopularity of the state legislature. Voters typically don’t let state-level issues interfere with their preferences nationally, but the 2014 Senate race could be an exception. It is in the interest of every Republican running, not just the leaders of the General Assembly, to end the legislative session as soon as possible.

We’re not yet at the point where Democratic enthusiasm has ‘solidified’ but if the legislature continues to attract negative headlines then we could be looking at the reelection of Senator Hagan and the losses of many Republican incumbents in close seats. The good news for Republicans is that they still have a year and four months to change their image. Legislative ‘frontloading’ is common and politicians usually try to pass the most controversial legislation quickly and well before election season. This doesn’t work all the time though. Back in 2009, the Obama administration desperately wanted to get health care reform passed quickly, which is why they tried to ram it through Congress. Instead they ran into several roadblocks, saw a Democratic Senate candidate defeated in Massachusetts, and finally were only able to pass the bill in March. By that time, Republican enthusiasm had long become solidified, the wave had already formed, and there was nothing the Democrats could do to stop it.

Voters will abide an unpopular legislature – legislative bodies are unpopular by default. But not to this extent. If Republicans are unable to improve perceptions of the state legislature, there will be real consequences at the ballot box next November.

John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: johncwynne@gmail.com.

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