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Opinion,Politics & Elections

An Eventful Week in Politics

Mar. 1st, 2012
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RALEIGH – Here are some entries in my political notebook, in response to the events of the week.

• Wednesday’s end of the candidate filing for North Carolina 2012 election cycle brought a few surprises and some clarity to the state political season.

At the top of the ballot, the race for the Democratic primary for governor didn’t take any interesting twists. The three major candidates will be Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, and current state Rep. Bill Faison. Although Etheridge has led in some early polls, it seems to me that Dalton is better prepared for the primary contest, having already been gearing up for reelection before Gov. Perdue announced her retirement. He has recruited an experienced campaign team and endorsements from representatives of key constituencies within the Democratic base.

As I have previously argued, I don’t think Democrats have really attracted their strongest field of opponents to Republican Pat McCrory in the fall. The governorship of North Carolina will be one of the national GOP’s best opportunities for picking up a long-held Democratic office.

Both parties have crowded primaries for lieutenant governor, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. Past lieutenant governors have frequently used the office as a springboard for later gubernatorial runs. Some (e.g. Jim Hunt and Bev Perdue) have succeeded. Some (e.g. Bob Jordan, Jim Gardner, and Dennis Wicker) have failed.

Republicans will have credible challengers for other statewide offices now held by Democrats. But no one filed against Attorney General Roy Cooper, despite well-publicized problems within the State Bureau of Investigation during his tenure. Republican incumbents Steve Troxler at Agriculture and Cherie Berry at Labor did draw challengers.

In the General Assembly, my preliminary look at the filings suggests that Democrats may have left too many potentially competitive seats on the table to pose a realistic challenge to overturn the GOP’s legislative majorities, although they could certainly reduce them. Perhaps my math is wrong. Or perhaps Democrats are still counting on a last-minute judicial intervention to throw the maps out and start over – a scenario that seems highly improbable at this point.

• Mitt Romney’s easy win in the Arizona primary and close win in the Michigan primary were important steps to restoring his frontrunner status after miscues in Colorado and Missouri in early February. But the vast majority of GOP delegates have yet to be awarded. If Newt Gingrich flames out on Super Tuesday and wins only his home state of Georgia, perhaps he will pull out and let the anti-Romney vote consolidate behind Rick Santorum. In any event, I still see Romney as the likely Republican nominee.

• Do Romney or Santorum have a realistic shot of defeating President Barack Obama in the fall? My friend Scott Elliott has run his fascinating site ElectionProjection.com for many years. Check out his current projections for president, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial races. (It’s a bit too early to put much stock in the U.S. House ratings, I think, and you’ll notice that the Senate projection now includes the effect of Olympia Snowe’s retirement in Maine.)

You’ll see that in the presidential contest, Elliott currently projects a narrow Obama victory over Romney – a 1.4 percent margin in the popular vote and a 285-253 edge in the Electoral College. The model reflects a scenario in which Romney wins the key swing states of Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, and Florida, while Obama retains Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Virginia.

If Santorum is the nominee, would the calculation shift more in a Republican direction? Perhaps he would find it easier than Romney would to yank Iowa into the GOP column, and force the Obama campaign to earn Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states. But the more likely path to GOP victory, it seems to me, would be to go after Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia. Win at least three of these states, or Virginia and just one other, and Obama involuntarily retires.

Which Republican strikes you as best situated to pursue such a strategy?

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.