Former congressman Bob Etheridge holds a 7-point lead over Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton in the contest for the Democratic nomination for governor, with nearly half of voters undecided, according to survey results released Friday by Public Policy Polling.
The poll finds Etheridge with a 26-19 percent advantage over Dalton. Etheridge’s strength comes primarily from the Triangle area, where he was elected seven times to Congress and has a 50-7 percent lead over Dalton. Meanwhile, Dalton surpasses Etheridge slightly in the Triad, Charlotte and Western North Carolina regions.
State Rep. Bill Faison comes in last at 2 percent, trailing little-known candidates Bruce Blackmon and Gardenia Henley. However, 41 percent of Democratic voters are undecided on which candidate they will favor in the May 8 primary.
“None of the major Democratic candidates are terribly well known,” Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling said in his analysis of the survey results. “There are no significant divides between the candidates yet along ideological, gender, racial or generational lines.”
Former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, who lost narrowly to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue in 2008, holds a commanding lead in the GOP race for governor. The poll finds McCrory favored by 57 percent of Republican voters, with lesser-known candidate Jim Harney a very distant second at 3 percent.
“As much speculation as there was about a challenge to McCrory from the right, he actually gets his strongest support from ‘very conservative’ voters at 62 percent,” Jensen said.
The polling results also show such Council of State races as labor commissioner, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction largely off the radar screen of most voters. In the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, 72 percent of voters are undecided. In the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner, 73 percent are undecided.
In the ongoing fight for the GOP presidential nomination, former U.S. senator Rick Santorum is the top pick for North Carolina Republicans, holding a 31-25 percent advantage over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich is a close third at 23 percent. Congressman Ron Paul is last at 8 percent.
According to the poll, Santorum would stand to gain the most if Gingrich were to drop out of the race before North Carolina’s May primary. In that scenario, Santorum’s lead over Romney would expand to 43-33 percent.
“Romney’s really benefiting from Gingrich continuing to be strong enough in the South that he splits the conservative vote with Santorum, unlike in other parts of the country where conservatives are increasingly unifying around Santorum as the alternative to Romney,” Jensen said.