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Final Thoughts On 2008 Primaries

May. 6th, 2008
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RALEIGH – Election Day is finally here, and it seems futile – not to mention potentially embarrassing – for me to write a great deal more about political races that are about to be settled in a few hours. Instead, I’ll give CJO readers a thumbnail sketch of the remarks I gave yesterday at an election-preview luncheon at JLF’s Raleigh offices.

I called my talk “the seven offs.” Try as I might, I couldn’t find any way to work in references to a certain beef-and-noodles dish or the Russian royal family. I did say that my favorite headline of the entire election cycle ran last week in the Morganton News-Herald: “Bill Clinton’s brief touchdown in Burke elicits hysteria.” Yeah, no kidding.

Here are the seven offs to be watching tonight:

The Face-Off
Obviously the Obama-Clinton race is by far the biggest contest of the night. It could well determine the outcome of the Democratic nomination, as I’ve previously argued. North Carolina has 115 delegates at stake, 77 awarded by congressional district and 38 by the statewide popular vote. The district allocations aren’t equal – the very-Democratic 4th District in the Triangle, for example, has nine delegates but the GOP-heavy 3rd District down east has only four.

The Turn-Off
Did Richard Moore’s last round of ads against Beverly Perdue backfire? I tend to think it did. Rather than challenging her bonafides on race relations, Moore probably should have attacked her from the economic left for her participation in Marc Basnight’s leadership team in the NC Senate during the 1990s. They cut some taxes, you know. That’s tough stuff to live down.

The Pair-Off
Although Bob Orr and Bill Graham are accomplished and credible candidates, they have fallen too far behind Fred Smith and Pat McCrory to be a factor in the outcome. Smith has the momentum, but McCrory retains a large lead in the Charlotte media market, which has the single-biggest cache of GOP primary votes in the state (think Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Gaston, Rowan, etc.) A potential problem for McCrory, as has been widely noted, is that some 85 percent of unaffiliated voters have been choosing the Democratic ballot in early voting. He’d like to have seen more independents participate in the GOP primary, as many have done in the past.

The Drop-Off
Turnout is likely to far exceed the 23 percent average for recent North Carolina primaries. But how many of those new voters will hang around long enough to vote for insurance commissioner or superintendent of public instruction? In 2000, the Democratic drop-off was about 23 percent between the total vote in the gubernatorial primary (562,000) and the court of appeals primary (434,000). In 2004, the Republican drop-off was about 34 percent between the gubernatorial primary (364,000) and the court of appeals (240,000). The percentage drop may well be even higher this time.

The Far-Off
Another potential factor in statewide Republican primaries might be differential turnout due to spirited congressional primaries in the 3rd District (along the coast) and the 10th and 11th districts (in the mountains). A few big-spending legislative primaries might also matter in the turnout, particularly the Senate 39 contest in Charlotte between Republican Bob Rucho and Andy Dulin. Fred Smith leads Pat McCrory in most of that congressional territory. But, of course, McCrory is the fave in Mecklenburg.

The Run-Off
There may be many fewer run-offs than some (myself included) expected earlier in the cycle. The likely second-primaries include the Democratic lieutenant governor and labor commissioner contests. The state treasurer primary is iffy.

The Tip-Off
In past election cycles, I’ve often found myself at television or radio stations late into the night, waiting for calls to be made not just in local or district races but even in some statewide contests. Because of changes in technology that speed up the vote tally and the fact that as many as a third of primary votes will be cast early, this year’s primary night may not be so exhausting. Many of the races could be called fairly quickly after the polls close at 7:30 pm.

And now some programming notes. I’ll be analyzing election returns for WRAL-TV in Raleigh starting at 8 pm. My colleague Donna Martinez will be co-hosting election-night coverage on WPTF-AM in Raleigh starting at 9 pm. Our own Mitch Kokai and other colleagues will be blogging the statewide results at “The Locker Room” and races of local interest on our Charlotte, Triad, Triangle, Wilmington, and Asheville blogs.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.