John Hood's Syndicated Weekly Column
RALEIGH ó I have no problem offering electoral predictions. Until 2008, I had a fairly good record pegging races, and my 2010 predictions proved to be within a couple of seats of the actual congressional and legislative results. But President Obamaís autumn surge in North Carolina confounded my model in 2008, tossing many of my statewide predictions into the trash heap ó no, make that the dung heap ó of history.
Still, Iíll once again try my hand at forecasting elections. But I wonít do it in midsummer. There are too many things we donít yet know about the 2012 cycle.
For example, I wonít yet predict that Mitt Romney will return North Carolina to the red column in the presidential race, even though various prediction sites are currently forecasting a narrow Romney win our state. Nor will I assume that President Obama will win a narrow reelection nationwide.
Thereís still plenty of time for national or international events to change the dynamics of the Obama-Romney contest. Perhaps a crisis will lead voters to rally around their commander-in-chief Ė or, as with Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage crisis of 1980, convince voters of the need for stronger leadership. Perhaps the economic indicators in September and October will be truly horrendous, prompting undecided voters to break in favor of change.
Both the Obama and Romney teams will have lots of money, talent, and organizational heft. Both will have strong turnout machines in North Carolina. Because President Obamaís job approval has stayed below 50 percent for months, he is certainly vulnerable. Most Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and disapprove of the presidentís record on the economy and health care. However, most Americans also know relatively little about Mitt Romney and arenít confident that his programs for economic growth and health care reform will be any better.
Whoever wins, it seems likely that the popular vote will be close. After three national ďwaveĒ elections Ė Democratic ones in 2006 and 2008 and a Republican one in 2010 Ė we may see more of a partisan muddle in 2012, with Democrats winning some key federal races and Republicans winning others.
For North Carolina, you might assume that the absence of a national wave would yield a mixed bag of results at the state and local levels. I donít think thatís a safe assumption. Because of favorable redistricting, financial advantages, and superior candidate recruitment, North Carolina Republicans seem poised to retain their legislative majorities, pick up three to four seats in the U.S. House, and retain or add to their recent gains in county commissions across the state.
At the statewide level, Republican Pat McCrory is leading Democrat Walter Dalton by an average of six percentage points. McCrory also enjoys an overwhelming financial advantage and remains a tested and likeable politician about whom there is unlikely to be a last-minute surprise. Down the ballot, some Democrats are worried that GOP candidates have a good shot of winning Council of State races such as lieutenant governor and state treasurer.
Nevertheless, Iíd urge caution about predictions. North Carolinaís political history shows that summer snapshots may not accurately capture fallís political colors. In 1984, then-Congressman Jim Martin trailed his Democratic opponent, Rufus Edmisten, shortly after the latter clinched his partyís nomination. By November, a combination of state and national factors generated a different outcome. Just four years ago, McCrory was running ahead of Bev Perdue in September. But by Election Day, the Democratic surge, much of it in the form of early votes, had knocked him out of contention.
What we donít know about the 2012 election would still make for a long list. I think Iíll wait for another couple of months of jobs reports, the first batch of polls after the national political conventions, and a candidate debate or two before firming up my own predictions.
My calls might prove off the mark, anyway, as they did in 2008. But at least they wonít feel like blind guesses.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and author of Our Best Foot Forward, a book on North Carolinaís economy. It is available at JohnLockeStore.com.