Burr, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2005, is trailing Democrat Deborah Ross by two points among registered voters in an NBC/WSJ/Marist poll released on Aug. 12. Last month, the same poll gave Burr a seven-point lead.
“Today’s poll reflects the fact that folks are responding to Deborah’s message of change,” said Ross press secretary Cole Leiter in a statement.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC media and journalism professor, said Ross’ campaign style has kept the race close.
“Deborah Ross has run a very aggressive campaign,” Guillory said. “She’s a very energetic person, she works hard, she’s determined.”
Ross, an attorney and former Wake County representative to the N.C. General Assembly, is running a close race with Burr despite little name recognition — 61 percent of respondents to an Aug. 10 poll released by Public Policy Polling had no opinion about her.
"(Ross) was a legislator from one county,” Guillory said. “She has never run a major statewide campaign before. She did not begin with this high visibility profile of a Senate candidate.”
But name recognition isn’t playing much of a role at this stage in the race, said John Davis, a North Carolina political analyst.
He said a candidate like Deborah Ross would still receive support, regardless of whether the public knows her, because she is a Democrat.
One of the main factors playing to Ross’ advantage so far is the volatility of the Trump campaign, which has hurt Burr, Davis said.
“Donald Trump can doom all Republicans, period,” he said. “If Trump becomes a drag on Republican candidates in North Carolina, then Burr is history.”
Ross will become increasingly vulnerable in the coming months as the campaign intensifies and Burr begins advertising and reaching out to voters, Davis said.
Burr will likely attack issues exposed by Ross’ opponents during the Democratic primaries over her tenure as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina..
In 1997, Ross fought the launch of the state sex offender registry. And in 2001, she opposed a bill that would allow public schools to display the Ten Commandments.
“Her Democratic opponents said during the primary that these issues make her unelectable in the fall — they were right,” Davis said. “These are visceral issues that can be used very effectively by the opposition.”
Guillory said while he currently views Burr as a narrow frontrunner, a lot could change before election day.
“The Senate race is only now coming into its really intense period,” he said.