Kissell Poll Shows Him Leading, But Under 50 Percent
Chalk this down as another oddity of a redistricting year: Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell has released an internal poll showing him under 50 percent, though still leading potential Republican challengers, in three general election matchups in North Carolina's 8th District. And given the hand Kissell was dealt in the Tarheel State's remapping, it's not all bad news for the two-term Blue Dog.
Kissell's pollster, Anzalone-Liszt Research, found him leading former GOP Hill staffer Richard Hudson, 46 percent to 36 percent. The other two Republican candidates, North Carolina state Rep. Fred Steen and neurosurgeon John Whitley, trailed Kissell by one point more, 46 percent to 35 percent.
Count Hudson among those unimpressed with Kissell's polling lead. This afternoon, his campaign emailed out a release titled, "Kissell on the Run: Incumbent Weak in Own Poll." In the release, Hudson says Kissell's "own poll shows me holding him below 50 percent before we have even begun to hold him accountable for his liberal, job-crushing vote record." Hudson began airing a TV ad against Kissell on the last day the poll was conducted.
Forty-six percent is dangerously close to a fault line for incumbents; those who poll below that number typically lose. But redistricting scrambles the equation a bit, and Kissell's pollster makes a reasonable argument that he has room for growth in the GOP-leaning district, which gave Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 57 percent of its presidential vote in 2008.
First, as pollster Zac McCrary pointed out, just under half the district is new territory for Kissell, and his name identification reflects that -- it stands at just 64 percent, low for an incumbent. The poll also showed Kissell pulling about 70 percent support from minorities, with the other 30 percent mostly undecided. (The district is just over one-fifth African-American.) With President Obama on the ballot and his campaign targeting the state with ads and his vaunted turnout operation, McCreary said Kissell could lift his minority support up near 90 percent as more people get to know him.
"That's four to five additional points you can just tack on," McCreary said, which would move Kissell from a plurality to a majority. "It shows his expansion potential."
As Hudson mentioned, though, Kissell's numbers come before Republicans have really gone after him and his record, as well as the Democratic Party in general. The Republican presidential nominee and various outside groups are sure to blanket North Carolina with ads attacking the Democratic brand, and whoever runs against Kissell is unlikely to lack resources -- the Club for Growth endorsed another potential challenger, Iredell County Commissioner Scott Keadle, this week.
But for a Democratic incumbent plopped in a district 10 points more Republican than before, with hundreds of thousands of new constituents to meet, Kissell's poll shows him in reasonable shape -- which is why his campaign told everyone about it.
The Anzalone-Liszt poll was conducted March 15-20, surveying 500 likely votes in North Carolina's 8th District, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.