It’s no secret that the Senate is up for grabs this November, and next up in my prediction series is Senator Richard Burr versus State Representative Deborah Ross. North Carolina has been notorious for tough Senate campaigns as of late. In 2014, former Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House Thom Tillis defeated Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan. Outside money flooded the state, and $84,517,806 was spent from outside sources, while total spending totaled over an astounding 100 million dollars.
To me, I perceive North Carolina to be a solid Republican state, however, this cycle has been extremely interesting for politics in the state. HB-2 has caused turmoil, and Governor Pat McCrory has taken an ideological stand that ultimately could cost him his job, and lead to further issues for Burr and Trump. Burr has worked hard to distance himself from the bill, which has been moderately successful. To add, Clinton is surging in North Carolina, and I would bet that she’ll take North Carolina on election day. To add to this tumultuous situation, Democrats are leading big in both the presidential and governor’s race in early voting.
Ross also benefitted by campaigning with President Obama and Hillary Clinton during their time in North Carolina. Burr isn’t exactly the most popular senator at the moment. A key part of Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland’s obstruction, Burr’s conservative regimen may be too much for North Carolinians. As the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think Burr has done a solid job. In terms of the national security set up, it’s not a massively important position, but I believe his tenure has been largely positive as the committee chairman. One thing I respect about Burr and his campaign was that he didn’t start officially campaigning until October of this year, citing that ongoing business in the Senate was more important due to his commitment of serving the people of the Tar Heel state.
For these reasons alone, Senator Burr finds himself extremely vulnerable. Surprisingly, Ross is setting the pace by a wide margin in the race according to early voting exit polls. Nobody would have expected that Ross would mount a serious challenge, but with the NRSC and DSCC among several outside groups have pumped millions into the race once more, these results surely won’t hold.
Do not count Burr out. Polling averages have Burr still setting the pace by a couple of points. Plus, Burr’s incumbent name recognition will certainly help, considering that Ross has barely, if any at all. The Burr campaign also maintains a large cash advantage, and will surely increase spending as the election nears. Democrats are currently out-fundraising Republicans nationwide, but I doubt much of this money flows into North Carolina considering the early voting totals for Clinton. The NRSC just announced a multi-million dollar ad-buy to aid Burr in the coming weeks.
It appears as if the Democrats early voting operation has been stronger than the Republicans in the state, but this is normal for candidates who appear to be trailing. I’m sure there is a reason for this: my guess is that the Ross campaign’s internal polling project her as trailing Burr. Recently, Burr has been up in the polls, and his current RealClearPolitics average has him up on Ross by 3.2 points on average (as of 12p.m. eastern on 10/27). But, many accurate polls have Burr winning by a few points. They’re mostly within the margin of error, but the sheer quantity of polls that has Burr leading definitely says something to me.
In terms of overall fit, both candidates do not fit the North Carolina constituency well. Ross is an unapologetic liberal, while the same can be said about Burr’s conservative principles. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burr wins the Senate race, Roy Cooper outpaces McCrory for Governor, and Hillary will beat Trump. I can’t see North Carolina going straight Democrat this November.
But, Ross is a former lobbyist for the ACLU. I am very surprised that Senator Burr’s camp hasn’t hit Ross harder on this point, similar to the way that I’m very surprised that Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb hasn’t hit Democrat John Gregg harder on his time as a lobbyist and for his work with Enron. However, Ross seems to be winning the fight online, with the NRSC’s branding “Radical Ross” failing to resonate with voters.
I find it extremely hard to predict this race. Part of me feels that Ross’ early voting numbers may be insurmountable for Burr on election day. But on the other hand, I feel that Burr’s name recognition, superior fundraising, incumbency will carry him over the line. Across the country, we are seeing people splitting their tickets. One example is that many Trump voters will vote Democrat for Senate, or people will vote for Clinton, but a Republican for Senate. Thus, the numbers at the top of the ticket may not condemn Burr to a defeat.
But, I think that Burr will defeat Ross by the slimmest of margins. Burr’s cash advantage will help flood the airwaves and ultimately dictate the narrative of the campaign until November 8th. Along with his far superior name recognition, and lack of Republican early voting efforts, I think that Burr will get the nod. Democrat early voting efforts have been significant, and a greater percentage of their voters have already voted. Although things can change in the final two week run in to the election, the Republican Party base is strong in North Carolina. If Burr wants to win, he better hope Republican voters show up on election day. This will come down to turnout. This isn’t to say that Ross won’t win. There are numerous reasons why she might. I would be shocked to see either candidate win by more than a couple points.