RALEIGH – Barring some last-minute filing, it looks like key North Carolina Democrats failed to find persuasive my previous column on the gubernatorial race. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
I wrote that if the major Democratic candidates for the nomination stayed at three – Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, former congressman Bob Etheridge, and state Rep. Bill Faison – the odds would be strongly in favor of Republican Pat McCrory winning the race in November. But neither of the two alternative candidates I mentioned, Richard Moore and Dan Blue, has gotten into the race.
Dalton and Etheridge are experienced politicians. And Faison proved to be prescient, at least, in his prediction that Gov. Bev Perdue wouldn’t seek reelection. But it’s hard to see how any of these men can build the organization, donor base, and excitement necessary to win the gubernatorial race against a GOP nominee who came close to winning in 2008, a very Democratic year in state politics.
As Etheridge has yet to file, it’s possible that he has changed his mind after considering the political realities of the situation.*
To say that the current Democratic field seems unequal to the task of defeating McCrory is not to say that McCrory will definitely win, however. There are two adverse scenarios for him. One is that the reelection campaign for President Obama will be so well funded and organized here that it will sweep Democratic candidates up and down the ballot into office regardless of the effectiveness of their campaigns. The second scenario is that McCrory will somehow defeat himself.
Let’s start with the Obama-uber-alles scenario. In 2008, his strong campaign effort in North Carolina clearly boosted the fortunes of Perdue and other Democratic candidates. Will a similarly charged bolt of lightning strike the Tar Heel State in 2012?
Perhaps. It may not be as exciting to reelect the first black president as it was to elect him in the first place, but Obama still has a large and loyal following who will turn out strongly for him this year – particularly if the homestretch national polls suggest his reelection is in danger. If Democratic turnout is high enough, even some voter defections to McCrory may not offset the elevated base vote for his opponent.
As for self-inflicted wounds by McCrory, it would probably take a major gaffe or strategic error to change the dynamics of the race. But we’ve seen it happen with other contests and candidates in recent years – heck, even in recent months in the GOP presidential nomination. If the former Charlotte mayor devotes too many of his resources to narrow issues that fail to interest or attract swing voters, for example, it might give his Democratic rival an opening.
Both adverse scenarios are conceivable. But at this time, both strike me as unlikely. If Democratic strategists come to the same conclusion in the coming months, they might well decide to shift their focus and resources to more promising opportunities.
They might target several competitive legislative races in an attempt to shrink GOP majorities, or even to retake the House (the Senate appears to be out of reach this year). They might also go after Republicans Steve Troxler, the agriculture commissioner, and Cherie Berry, the labor commissioner. Locally, there are opportunities for Democrats to retake some county commissions that have recently gone Republican (the GOP has achieved rough parity in county governments for the first time in state history).
It will be historic if Republicans win the governor’s office and retain control of both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly this fall. That would constitute the first unified GOP government in the state since Reconstruction. But in no way would it represent an end to competitive politics. North Carolina is not about to become a solidly Republican state in the way that we were once a solidly Democratic state. If Republicans fail to recruit good candidates, train and fund them well, deploy their resources effectively, and deliver policy outcomes that voters like, the political winds will shift again.
Doubt me? Just ask Democratic insiders how they feel. Just four years ago, their power in Raleigh looked secure. It was a mirage.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.
* UPDATE: On Tuesday several media organizations reported that Bob Etheridge will file for governor on Wednesday.