The biggest lesson of Bev Perdue's single term as Governor might be the importance of making a good first impression. The final time we found Perdue with a positive approval rating was in April of 2009 at 41/40, only 3 months after she took office. By July, after a disastrous legislative session where she appeared weak and indecisive, her approval rating was 25% with 55% of voters disapproving of her. She doomed her chances at reelection in those three months between April and July of 2009. She's been one of the most unpopular Governors in the country ever since then.
Perdue tried too hard to please all sides during that critical early period of her tenure and as a result just antagonized everybody. That July 2009 poll found that even Democrats disapproved of her, 38/40, and her numbers with independents (20/58) and Republicans (9/73) were abysmal.
Perdue became a better Governor after that and by the end of 2011 her net approval rating had improved 19 points from the summer of 2009 to a 37/48 spread. Her strong efforts in fighting Republican attempts to cut funding to education caused significant upticks in her support from Democrats (58/28) and independents (35/45). But it was too little too late.
Perdue trailed Pat McCrory by increasing margins of 9, 10, and 11 points over the last three months of our polling. Her chances at reelection were close to nil, and the party's chances at keeping the Governor's office are better without her than they were with her.
Make no mistake though- this is not a toss up race. Pat McCrory will start out as the favorite pretty much no matter who ends up running on the Democratic side. McCrory is an unusually strong candidate- our last statewide poll found 40% of voters holding a favorable opinion of him to 24% with a negative one, very solid numbers in a state that doesn't much like any of its politicians right now.
McCrory has nearly a 2:1 favorability ratio with independents at 37/19, and an unusual amount of crossover popularity with 26% of Democrats seeing him favorably to 37% with a negative opinions. Those numbers will decline as he comes under attack in a statewide campaign, and he's made a significant political error by tying himself closely to a Legislative that has a 16% approval rating. But he starts out extremely formidable.
In October we did a poll testing potential alternative candidates to Perdue:
-Erskine Bowles tied Pat McCrory at 42%. It's important to remember that even though Bowles lost in a 2004 Senate bid, he outran the Kerry/Edwards ticket by 7 points. The political landscape in North Carolina has a changed a lot since 2004 and if you outrun the national ticket by 7 points this year in the state, you win.
-Attorney General Roy Cooper trailed Pat McCrory only 42-39.
-Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton trailed McCrory 46-32.
-State Representative Bill Faison trailed McCrory 45-30.
Those folks all polled better or about as well as Perdue is now. Democrats' chances of holding on are still less than 50%...but they're better than they were with Perdue. We'll have fresh polling soon looking at the Governor's race in the post-Perdue landscape.