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Elect 2012: Poll shows Kissell leading three Republican competitors

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — A new poll shows U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell leading three Republican opponents by double digits, but he’s preferred by less than half of likely voters.
Kissell’s campaign paid for the poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research, which interviewed 500 likely voters in the 8th Congressional District from March 15-20.
According to a memo released by the pollster Thursday, Kissell currently leads each of the three Republicans tested — Richard Hudson, Fred Steen and John Whitley — by double digits.
The memo calls Richard Hudson the “perceived Republican front-runner” and said Kissell leads him in the poll 46 percent to 36 percent. It does not give percentages for Steen or Whitley.
The poll apparently didn’t test two other Republican candidates — Scott Keadle and Vernon Robinson — or Kissell’s Democratic challenger, Marcus Williams.
In response, Hudson said he thinks the poll shows Kissell “in a weak position for re-election.”
“His own poll shows me holding him under 50 percent before we have even begun to hold him accountable for his liberal, job-crushing voting record,” Hudson wrote in a campaign press release.
He also referred to poll results showing that just 36 percent are more likely to support an unnamed Democrat for federal office, while 43 percent would support an unnamed Republican.
Michael Bitzer, political science professor at Catawba College, called Kissell “one of the most in-danger Democrats in the state” in a phone interview Thursday.
“Larry Kissell is running as the guy with the biggest bullseye on his back,” Bitzer said. “The 8th Congressional District will be the epicenter of the battle in this fall’s general election.”
The new district, which was redrawn last year, contains 46 percent registered Democrats, 33 percent registered Republicans and 21 percent unaffiliated voters.
But in the 2008 presidential election, Bitzer said, the district’s precincts voted 57 percent for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama.
He said a Republican’s chances of winning will depend on how well that candidate can bring together his party base going into the general election.
The pollster memo offered a different view, saying Kissell “certainly has a real path toward a successful re-election.” It said he is still introducing himself to voters who just became part of the 8th district.
“Given that a little over half of the current district (55 percent) was represented by Kissell under the previous lines, he has more expansion potential than most incumbents would in a traditional election year,” the memo states.
In phone interviews Thursday, Steen and Whitley both said they’re not concerned about the poll showing Kissell in the lead.
“It’s a long way until November gets here,” Steen said. “We’re focused on the primary now.”
Steen said he thinks the focus on three specific candidates shows who the Democrats are worried might defeat Kissell.
“There’s really no way that can be accurate – not in this district,” Whitley said. “But I hope he believes it, and that he won’t campaign much.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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