“Democrats have shown that they have really targeted the governor’s race, but they haven’t really shown that they have done much to prepare for a contest against Richard Burr,” said Mitch Kokai, policy analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation.
Two potential candidates are Chris Rey, an African-American veteran and the youngest-ever mayor of Spring Lake, North Carolina, and former state representative Deborah Ross. But Ross, a UNC law school graduate and former attorney, has yet to officially declare her candidacy.
“I think both Chris Rey and Deborah Ross appear to be good strong competitors who could lead the ticket going into the fall election cycle next year,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham.
But when asked if they viewed the potential candidates favorably, nearly 80 percent of people responded “not sure,” according to Public Policy Polling.
Kokai said Rey’s lack of name recognition could make campaigning difficult.
With Rey and Ross polling below 10 percent favorability, some question why former Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has not announced candidacy.
“I think there’s a fatigue factor. It’s hard to turn around immediately after you’ve been running hard for two years and people are all against you,” said Gary Pearce, a liberal political consultant.
Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, said Hagan faced a record-setting onslaught of negative attacks in her last run for office.
“It would be like if Democrats went on the air now starting to attack Richard Burr,” Jensen said.
With no negative ads running, Burr registered a 30 percent favorability rating, according to Public Policy Polling.
Jensen said this is reminiscent of 2008 when Hagan defeated then-incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Like Burr, Dole had low polling support, and she ultimately lost her seat to Hagan — who initially trailed by 15 points.
“It is hard to say how the political climate will unfold over the 13 months between now and the election, but the conditions are at least there for the Democrats to be able to make it competitive,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, a college hall of fame quarterback, is also being discussed as a prospective candidate. Shuler is perceived more favorably than Rey or Ross, but Kokai said he might not win support from the far left as a conservative Democrat.
“Shuler appeals more to what is a dying breed among Democrats,” he said.
But Kokai said Shuler could attract independents and social conservatives weary of Burr.
To prevent another Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, Democrats would need at least five seats in the upcoming election.
As North Carolina is a purple state, Jensen said Democrats have shown they can succeed here.
“Winning in a place like North Carolina would be vital to Democratic hopes of getting back control of the Senate, overall,” he said.