Democrats are bullish about their chances to knock off Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race The Trail 2016: Fight night Poll finds races for president, Senate tight in North Carolina MORE (R-N.C.) in 2016, believing that turnout in the swing-state in a presidential election year will boost them to victory over an incumbent they say has never been tested.
“Over the past several election cycles, North Carolina has become a fiercely competitive battleground state that neither party can take for granted,” the memo, first obtained by The Hill, states. “Richard Burr is not well-known or well-liked, and given the expected makeup of the 2016 electorate, all signs point to a difficult road ahead for this longtime-incumbent.”
The DSCC points to the see-saw nature of recent elections in the state, arguing that the balance of power is ready to tilt back in their favor.
In 2008, President Obama won his closest victory there, as North Carolina voters also sent Democrats to the Senate and the governor’s mansion. In 2012, Mitt Romney won his closest victory in the state, as the GOP picked up nine of the 13 House seats and expanded their majorities in the state House and Senate.
But the DSCC argues that Republicans don’t have the deep support their strong 2012 showing might indicate, arguing in the memo that Democratic House candidates received more overall votes than Republican House candidates in the state that year. They say the GOP gains that year were primarily due to gerrymandering.
“Since then, the Republican brand has suffered a major hit in North Carolina as the governor and legislature have overreached with their new majorities by adding restrictions on women’s health care and slashing education funding while at the same time increasing taxes on working families,” the memo says.
“Any Republican running in North Carolina in 2016 will have to wear this tarnished brand around their neck, and the state is widely expected to be a tough battleground at both the state, Senate and Presidential levels.”
Democrats also point to former Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D-N.C.) narrow loss in 2014 to now-Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) in a wave election year for Republicans. Tillis only defeated Hagan by 1.5 percentage points, or about 48,000 votes.
In a presidential election year, turnout could favor Democrats, making North Carolina a prime pick-up opportunity for the party. A victory there would go a long way to helping them reclaim a majority in the upper chamber.
However, Burr has yet to attract a Democratic challenger. Hagan was viewed by many as the strongest potential candidate, but she has said she won’t run again.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Matt Connelly said Hagan passing on the race was a huge blow for Democrats.
“The panic coming from the DSCC on North Carolina is breathtaking and this flailing memo is just the latest failed attempt to stop the bleeding when it comes to their massive recruiting failures across the map this cycle,” Connelly said in a statement.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, University of North Carolina system President Tom Ross and former Rep. Heath Shuler are among the Democrats believed to be eyeing the seat.
According to a recent survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, Burr has healthy leads over all those potential challengers, with Shuler, who trails by 8 points, coming the closest.
But the DSCC points to figures from the same survey in arguing that Burr is ripe for unseating. His approval rating is at 28 percent positive and 39 percent negative, while 33 percent said they didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion.
“Burr has yet to be tested in a tough electoral environment,” the DSCC said. “He was first elected to the Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010, which were both banner years for Republicans across the country. “Supporters who point to Burr’s 2010 re-election as proof that he will run strong in 2016 are willfully ignoring that 2016 will be a wildly different electoral environment that is expected to favor Democrats.”