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Cunningham Memo Claims He's Party's Best Shot

A new poll shows how competitive the June 22 North Carolina Democratic Senate primary runoff will be between Cal Cunningham and Elaine Marshall, and both campaigns are out to prove why they would be the more competitive nominee against incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R).

The Public Policy Polling survey found Cunningham and Marshall tied at 36 percent apiece, with 28 percent undecided -- proof that the race is anyone's game. Earlier this week the Marshall campaign began to push an argument that Cunningham "has no path to victory," but the poll would appear to indicate otherwise.

In a memo to top campaign supporters today, Cunningham spokesman Jared Leopold pointed to the poll results and accused the Marshall campaign of taking a "premature victory lap."

"Candidates who declare victory weeks before the ballots are cast are likely to be surprised on Election Day," Leopold wrote.

Cunningham came into the race as the unknown quantity, though his background made him an attractive candidate to the national party, which recruited him for some time to run. Already in the race was Marshall, the four-term secretary of state.

Her long statewide experience is now being used against her, as Leopold writes: "Voters don't want career politicians; they are looking for a new generation of leaders to take on the challenges we face." In this anti-incumbent, anti-Washington national mood, that's a line that could work both in the primary and against Burr.

Cunningham took just 27 percent in the primary, but he was able to hold Marshall below the 40 percent needed to win the nomination. Going forward, Cunningham is counting on picking up much of the 36 percent of the vote that four other primary challengers won last week -- votes his campaign sees as votes against Marshall.

Despite Cunningham's two-to-one cash advantage, Marshall spokesman Thomas Mills wrote in Monday's memo that Marshall "will have the resources to compete with Cunningham in every medium and has a stronger, broader base to build upon."

The primary had a low turnout, and the runoff is expected to be even lower. So exciting the base will be key to both campaigns. As Leopold points out in the memo, Cunningham led 46-31 percent in the PPP poll among those who were "very excited" to vote.

Exciting the base will also be important against Burr, and getting anywhere close to the numbers President Obama brought out in 2008 could help Democrats pick up a Senate seat in an otherwise down year for the party. The Cunningham campaign believes he's the candidate who can do it.

"North Carolina Democrats need a nominee who can motivate voters to come out to the polls and beat Richard Burr," writes Leopold. "That's why Cal Cunningham is best-positioned to take on Richard Burr this November."