In closely watched NC Senate race, candidates have dueling polls over who’s leading

Jeff Tarte, left, is a Republican defending his seat from a challenge by Natasha Marcus, a Democrat.
Jeff Tarte, left, is a Republican defending his seat from a challenge by Natasha Marcus, a Democrat. Charlotte

Early voting is set to start Wednesday and the race for a Republican-held N.C. Senate seat is heating up in Mecklenburg County, with the candidates releasing competing polls over who has the lead.

Democrat Natasha Marcus is challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Tarte for the redrawn N.C. 41 district, which covers north Mecklenburg and runs west and south to Steele Creek and south Ballantyne. The Democrats can break Republicans’ veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly if they flip six senate seats.

Tarte is seen as one of the more vulnerable members, since Hillary Clinton would have won the district 50-45 percent in 2016, based on its current lines.

But Tarte’s campaign this week is touting the results of a recent poll that shows him with a 46-43 percent lead. That’s within the 5.7 percent margin of error, but it’s an improvement from previous polls. The survey of 300 likely voters, conducted this past weekend and sponsored by the NC Republican Senate Caucus, also showed a surge in enthusiasm for Republicans in the district, Tarte’s campaign said.

They attribute that primarily to backlash over the bitter U.S. Senate hearings over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which Republicans across the U.S. are counting on to drive their base to the polls next month.

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“It’s a huge swing from August,” said Larry Shaheen, a political strategist working for Tarte. He said the Kavanaugh hearings and surrounding protests show the “rule of the mob.”

Marcus’s campaign responded with a poll of their own. Conducted from Sept. 26-27, the survey of 555 likely voters gave Marcus a six-point lead, up 43-37 percent. That’s outside the poll’s 4.2 percent margin of error, and campaign officials said it’s driven by a large lead Marcus holds with women and independent voters.

“Our opponent knows that he faces an uphill battle,” said Ian Shannon, Marcus’s campaign manager. “I doubt he’d release a poll with him inside the large, nearly 6 point, margin of error with a small sample size if this wasn’t the highest polling he’ll see this election.”

He said their poll shows Marcus, “right where we want to be, up by a good lead, outside the margin of error.”

Shaheen said he thinks the Marcus campaign’s poll doesn’t hold water anymore because it was before the impact of the Kavanaugh hearings sunk in.

Both candidates have talked more extensively about local issues — especially the ongoing uproar over toll lanes on Interstate 77, which may be the defining issue in north Mecklenburg — than national issues.

“The Kavanaugh hearings will only be an outlier in this race,” Shannon predicted.

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The contest for the N.C. Senate 41 seat is attracting outside support from both sides as the election nears. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a favorite among conservative Republicans, is coming to a “BBQ and Barn Party” event for Tarte on Oct. 27, and Americans for Prosperity-NC announced last week that they’ll be supporting Tarte.

Meanwhile, N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is coming to Charlotte on Oct. 18 to support Marcus, at an event that will also include Democratic politicians such as State Sen. Jeff Jackson and Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt.

Portillo: 704-358-5041