Pollster: Casino sleaze makes Berger very vulnerable to primary challenge

*There’s just something about paying more attention to your donors than your voters that rubs people the wrong way. *

The state budget is close to three months overdue.  Senator Phil Berger and his friends on Jones Street have held it hostage as leverage to pass a casino deal for some very generous campaign donors.  Folks have rallied against Berger’s casino shenanigans in his district and have taken their fight to Raleigh.  Apparently, there was not one flip given within the Berger camp.

Some have suggested this whole affair could earn senator Berger an interesting primary challenge. Democrat-aligned pollster Public Policy Polling has released some data supporting that conclusion:

A new poll released Thursday morning shows most Republican voters in Senate leader Phil Berger’s district oppose the proposal to legalize more casinos in North Carolina. 

The poll, which was conducted on Tuesday by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, finds that 60% of likely Republican primary voters in Berger’s district oppose the plan compared to 28% supporting it. 

Berger represents Rockingham County and portions of Guilford County. If the legislature passed the casino proposal, it was expected one of the casinos would end up in Rockingham County.

In addition, the poll shows 41% of those voters disapprove of Sen. Berger’s job performance compared to 26% who approve. 

“When asked if they would vote to re-elect Senator Berger or if someone new should be given a chance, just 30% said they would vote to re-elect him while 45% said it was time for someone else,” writes Jim Williams, of Public Policy Polling, in a memo. […]

Berger (R-Rockingham), one of the state’s most powerful elected officials, has been one of the leading advocates for a proposal that would legalize four more casinos as well as video lottery terminals. It’s been expected that one of the casinos would end up in Rockingham County, where Berger lives. County commissioners recently approved a request to rezone land that could be the site of a future casino. 

Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) announced Tuesday night that they were dropping plans to include expanded gambling in the state budget amid pushback from a minority of Republicans in the legislature and most Democrats. 

“It became crystal clear to me that the facts, the merit of the proposal was sort of beside the point in terms of what was being discussed,” Berger said. “If we decided to just try to wait it out instead of calming things down, it was unlikely to do that.” 

When asked about the issue Wednesday, Berger said he still supports the idea of legalizing the additional casinos, noting the legislation authorizing them called for at least 1,750 jobs to be created at each casino site and for developers to invest at least $500 million. 

Berger said he hasn’t determined yet if he would try to pass the proposal during next year’s short session again through the budget or as a standalone bill.  

“The issue is out there and folks can have conversations about it. We’ll see if there is a pathway and what is the most reasonable and likely pathway for success,” he said.  

Berger faced criticism for attempting to include the proposal in the state budget this year. The discussions about it had been occurring behind closed doors for months. […]

Here is the link to the full polling memo.

All of the cash from casino sources and all of the quiet backroom dealing has really rubbed voters across the state the wrong way.  Many who don’t mind gambling or an occasional Vegas trip are offended by the sleazy, sketchy way this whole matter has been handled. 

Rockingham County sheriff Sam Page, a popular figure among Tea Party and MAGA activists, is running for lieutenant governor.  He came out strong against the casino deal. Many observers see him as having a better shot in a run against Berger than he would in the ever-growing, already-crowded lieutenant governor field. Sources tell us that, for now, Page is sticking with the lieutenant governor’s race.

If casino opponents within Berger’s district find themselves a quality candidate against Berger to rally around, they might honestly be surprised at how much logistical and financial support is available out there.

Berger’s immediate family has deep connections within the General Assembly, the state Supreme Court, and the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners.  Sending at least one of those Bergers to the house might spur a bit of a political earthquake around Rockingham County (not to mention North Carolina).

I always view PPP’s numbers with some skepticism. Especially when they involve Republicans. After all, THEY ARE DEMOCRATS.  Historically, PPP’s numbers tend to typically give Republican candidates and issues the short end of the stick.  I rarely see their numbers match election results when it comes to R v. R or D v. R matchups. 

But PPP’s numbers do somewhat appear to reflect the easily-observable mood out there.