Most of the media coverage, both from Washington and within the state, about Richard Burr's situation for next year completely misses the point. Conventional wisdom is so deeply ingrained in people that even when an election completely shatters it- like the North Carolina Senate election last year- people seem to go right back to it. That's very much true with today's Real Clear Politics story about the race.
First, it declares that Richard Burr does not have the same problems Elizabeth Dole did. Actually he does. Dole's problem was that she was so weakly defined with the electorate that when the DSCC started attacking her in August people believed it, because she hadn't given them any reason to see otherwise. Burr has exactly the same problem. A third of voters in our polls have no opinion about him. Civitas' polls have tended to show closer to 50% with no opinion about him. When you have not crafted an image of yourself with the electorate, you give someone else the opportunity to. Burr's 'issues' will be whatever the DSCC and his opponent decides they are unless he does a lot more to define himself with the voters in the next year. But that's not really going to start happening in a broad sense until the last few months before the election.
The same 'experts' writing these stories and giving these quotes are probably the same ones who said Dole was going to coast to reelection because she had a 14 point lead on July 1st. Well she was highly malleable and trailed Kay Hagan by three points by the end of August. When you haven't caught the voters' attention your fortunes can shift really fast, and our numbers consistently show Burr in an even weaker position on that front than Dole was. I don't know what's going to get thrown at Burr but the DSCC showed last year it is quite adept at making use of what's out there, such as effectiveness rankings.
Second, this continuing thought that Democrats are in trouble because they haven't landed a 'name' challenger yet is ridiculous. Every single story written about Burr's status should point out that Hagan didn't join the race until October. That's still four months away. And she certainly wasn't a name challenger. Gary Pearce is the only person I've seen who really seems to get this. Our poll last week showed that two sentences of Cal Cunningham's biography gave him better numbers than almost every prominent Democrat we've polled, including several statewide officials and members of Congress. Cooper would clearly have been the best possible candidate but beyond him I think any Democrat who can raise money and has a story to tell is going to start in a roughly similar position.
We saw all these things to be true in 2008, yet the press coverage still comes across with a very 2007 mentality.