Hagan leads North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), the most prominent announced candidate, by 51 to 36 percent. She posts a similar 52 to 36 percent lead against North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R), who has strongly hinted at running, and has a 50 to 36 percent lead over Charlotte-area Pastor Mark Harris (R), who is also likely to run.

There are signs the race will be much tighter than those figures, however. All of the potential Republican candidates aren't well-known, and the first-term senator's approval rating sits at 43 percent with 39 percent, a good but not great figure.

In the GOP primary, none of the potential candidates crack 15 percent support, a sign of how unknown they all are to the state's voters.

The poll also may skew a bit more Democratic than is realistic: President Obama's approval rating in the poll is at 48 percent with 49 percent disapproving. Considering Obama narrowly lost the state in 2012 and his national approval rating has slipped some since then, the poll's sample may not be entirely accurate.

PPP's automated poll of 600 likely voters and oversample of 311 likely Republican voters was conducted from Sept. 6-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, with a 5.6 percentage point margin of error for the GOP primary.