Civitas has a new poll finding that Richard Burr is in trouble for his re-election efforts. Burr leads Secretary of State Elaine Marshall by only 8 points and doesn’t come close to the magic 50% mark, leading only 40-32. In a generic Dem/generic Republican matchup, the Democrat wins 40-39.

Public Policy Polling finds a similar result, and concludes that Burr is in a lot of trouble.

Our newest survey finds him with just a one point lead, 42-41, against a generic Dem and also finds his approval rating in negative territory at 35/37.

Burr’s fall is occurring with independents. Where he held generic ballot leads of 20 and 21 points with them on the last two surveys, he has just a 40-36 advantage with them on this month’s poll. The conservative Civitas survey actually showed a generic Democrat leading Burr 30-23 with independents.

Burr continues to lead over all of his actual Democratic opponents. Elaine Marshall comes the closest at a 42-37 deficit, her best performance yet in polling against Burr. Kenneth Lewis and Cal Cunningham both match or exceed their strongest numbers so far as well, trailing Burr 43-37 and 45-36 respectively.

None of the Democratic candidates are particularly well known to the state’s voters at this point. 81% don’t know enough about Cunningham to have an opinion, 80% say the same of Lewis, and 69% do of Marshall. Looking toward the primary 28% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Marshall to 12% for Cunningham and 10% for Lewis.

To put the current state of the race into perspective, Elizabeth Dole led Kay Hagan 51-39 in a poll we conducted at this same point in the election cycle two years ago.

In a normal political environment, Burr would be seen as simply DOA for 2010.

However, there’s a lot that’s unsettled in this race. First there’s the expected intensity gap that may favor Republicans in 2010. Second, there’s the possibility of an ugly contested primary on the Democratic side, between Marshall, lawyer Kenneth Lewis and former state Sen., Iraq war vet and DC favorite Cal Cunningham. President Obama reportedly called Cunningham this week, another example of the DC establishment sticking their nose into this primary:

Cal Cunningham received a phone call this week from President Barack Obama, another indication that he is seen in Washington as the Democratic Party’s strongest potential challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr […]

The call from Obama is likely to be seen as bit of political symbolism. Cunningham was recruited into the Senate race by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The committee has promised to use its connections to help open doors to financial donors and has been providing him advice as he seeks to win the May Democratic primary.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Chapel Hill attorney Ken Lewis are also seeking the Democratic nomination.

This may not sit well with Democrats inside North Carolina. I have reported previously about rising tensions in this primary, especially with Cunningham, a relative newcomer, being given such attention by national Democrats, despite losing badly at this stage. Now the President appears to be taking a side. North Carolina’s Democratic Party has a history of neutrality in primary fights, and this could upset that delicate balance.

It also threatens to distract one of the best chances for Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent Senator next year.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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