TRIAD — Former Gov. Pat McCrory is the preferred choice so far for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022, but so many of the party’s voters do not yet have a preference that the race remains up for grabs, according to a new poll.

The Civitas Poll of 600 likely GOP primary voters, released Thursday, found that McCrory leads the field with support of 24%, compared to 19% for U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and 7% for former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. However, 49% were undecided.

The general election race to replace Sen. Richard Burr, who is not seeking reelection, is expected to be one of the most competitive of 2022 and could decide the balance of power in that chamber.

Budd has received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, but in the poll McCrory led in three of four major regions across the state, with 24% support in the Triangle, 27% on the coast, and 27% in the Charlotte area.

The only area where Budd came out on top was central North Carolina, where Budd’s 13th Congressional District is, with 28% support. The 13th District currently includes Davidson and Randolph counties but has been redrawn for the 2022 election.

All four regions have a high undecided rate, ranging from 35% in the central portion of the state to 57% in the Triangle.

Donald Bryson, president of the John Locke Foundation, said the poll shows McCrory and Budd have different paths to victory.

“Budd’s path is more straightforward: He needs the field to narrow. McCrory, on the other hand, with better name recognition, needs his campaign to begin putting lead on-target, specifically Ted Budd himself and core conservative issues like border security and election security,” he said.

The poll indicates that former President Trump’s influence in the race is strong but not overwhelming: Asked how Trump’s endorsement would influence their vote, 50% of GOP primary voters said they would definitely or probably vote for Trump’s pick, while 37% said they would keep an open mind.

Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College, predicted the race will shift as it heads into the home stretch.

“I’d expect to see Budd publicize Trump’s endorsement to the hilt,” Bitzer said. “McCrory’s name recognition and previous runs certainly are a fundamental advantage to him, but my question continues to be how loyal will this GOP primary electorate be towards Trump?”

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