In 2004, freshman Republican Sen. Richard Burr won a fairly tight race in what was a huge Republican year:
That same year, Bush won North Carolina by 12 points, so Burr underperformed the national Republican ticket by seven points. That was a poorer performance than Liddy Dole's first election to the Senate in 2002:
That's the same Dole, of course, who was decisively booted from office last year, underperforming John McCain by eight points:
It's worth noting that now-Sen. Kay Hagan wasn't a top-ranked recruit for the DSCC. Their preferred candidates all passed leaving the Dems to pluck a little-known state senator as their candidate. Lucky for everyone not a Republican, Hagan proved a great candidate -- Despite little name recognition and trailing in money, she took out one of the biggest celebrities in the Republican Party. Sure, the Obama field operation helped, but Obama won by a fraction, Hagan just barely missed a double-digit victory.
So now Sen. Burr, with a fraction of the fame, profile, and fundraising prowess (just $1M CoH) of his former colleague, now has to face reelection in 2010. And unlike Dole, who faced off against an unknown state senator, Burr won't have that luxury. Several of the state's top Democrats, having passed on a seemingly invincible Dole, won't be so shy this time around.
Our baseline poll back in mid-January had Burr in the mid-40s, already below the safe 50 percent mark, with potential Democratic foes lagging just behind. In fact, Burr's numbers are little different than Dole's were in December 2007, while the Democrats are better positioned than the then-unknown Hagan.
North Carolina was among the most politically interesting states last cycle, and that won't change this coming one. Republicans will be hard-pressed to hold on to this seat.
Update by Arjun: Against at least one opponent, Burr's numbers are a lot worse. When matched against North Carolina's well-regarded Attorney General, Democrat Roy Cooper, Burr actually starts out in the hole:
Civitas. 3/16-19. Likely voters. MoE 4.0%
Roy Cooper (D) 41
Richard Burr (R) 38
Burr's a weak incumbent in a state in which it's always been difficult to hold a Senate seat. He's going to have an awfully tough time hanging on.