Vinroot Lead Doesn't Exclude N.C. Gubernatorial Runoff

Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot (search) leads in a poll for next week's Republican gubernatorial primary but still appears to fall short of escaping a runoff next month.

The poll of 625 registered voters, including 400 who said they were likely to vote in the GOP primary Tuesday, gave 30 percent of the support to Vinroot. A candidate needs more than 40 percent to avoid a two-way runoff Aug. 17.

Former state Senate Minority Leader Patrick Ballantine (search) of Wilmington had 19 percent in the survey conducted Monday and Tuesday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, followed by ex-state GOP chairman Bill Cobey of Durham at 16 percent.

A similar poll conducted by Mason-Dixon two months ago had Vinroot at 29 percent, Cobey with 17 percent and Ballantine 11 percent among likely voters in the GOP primary.

The poll, commissioned by the Winston-Salem Journal, WRAL-TV and other media outlets, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"Vinroot hasn't moved much," said Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon's managing director. "He started out the front-runner, but you don't see his numbers moving a whole lot."

He said that Vinroot's support might be flat because of his two previous campaigns for governor. Vinroot lost in the Republican primary in 1996 and then lost to Democrat Mike Easley in 2000.

"Voters may be looking for an alternative," Coker said. "They might be saying, 'I like Vinroot, but he always goes out and loses."'

Vinroot campaign manager, Chris Neeley, said he will "take an 11-point lead and a 40 percent of the decided vote any day," Neeley said. "I'm not going to negate Patrick and his momentum. He's clearly moved up some. But so have we."

Ballantine campaign manager Bob Rosser attributed the apparent surge largely to TV commercials.

"That shows the momentum that we've got going for us," Rosser said. "People just have seemed to like his message."

Jeff Miller, a Cobey campaign spokesman cited its own poll showing Cobey in second place.

"While all six candidates are very much the same, there are some distinct differences," said Miller, adding that the undecideds will "agree with Bill's positive vision."

Among other GOP gubernatorial candidates, state Sen. Fern Shubert of Union County was the choice of 4 percent of the likely primary voters, Southern Pines insurance executive George Little received 3 percent and Davie County commissioner Dan Barrett was at 2 percent.

Looking to the November general election, the poll also gave the incumbent Easley a comfortable lead over the leading Republicans in head-to-head matchups. Poll results show Easley beating Ballantine 50 percent to 28 percent, Vinroot 50 percent to 21 percent and Cobey 54 percent to 23 percent.