RALEIGH — What’s the deal with Mike Easley?
For more than a year now, it’s been obvious to political activists in both parties that North Carolina’s governor is politically vulnerable. Rumors persist of a primary challenge in the 2004 Democratic race. At least four Republicans are planning bids for their party’s nomination, with more entries possible.
And yet, the political pundits keep spinning the situation as favoring an Easley re-election.
The governor’s poll numbers have been bouncing around between the low 40s and the high 40s, which reporters and columnists keep strangely describing as boding well for him. Despite what the pollster for The News & Observer said Sunday, on reporting the newspaper’s latest finding (49 percent), Easley’s poll numbers show vulnerability. “Right now, his re-election prospects are pretty good and it’s his election to lose,” the pollster said. “He’s likeable. He’s not polarizing. There are people who ideologically don’t like him. But not enough to throw him out of office.”
When fewer than half of voters approve of the job you are doing, your re-election prospects are not “pretty good.” There’re not “pretty bad,” either, I admit, nor am I trying to make some sort of elaborate political case against Easley. There are some governors around the country doing a much worse job and getting much worse approval ratings. Gray Davis in California is trapped in the 30s in the latest polls there, for example.
But there are a number of governors doing much better than Easley on a political level, and many are right here in the Southeast. Republicans Mark Sanford in South Carolina, Jeb Bush in Florida, and Sonny Perdue in Georgia enjoy majority support in their respective states. Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, facing a Republican-control legislature, has managed to show some leadership and appears to be in reasonably good shape (I couldn’t find a recent approval-rating poll, however). In Tennessee, newly elected Democratic Gov. Phil Bredeson has a 58 percent approval rating despite facing fiscal problems arguably more serious than North Carolina’s.
Easley is a likeable guy, but the velvet-gloves punditry in the North Carolina media has got to go. The governor probably has a tough race ahead of him in 2004, unless the economy improves dramatically. He surely knows that. So do Democratic and Republican leaders. Why pretend it ain’t so?
If I may conclude on a more contentious note, I would argue that Easley’s political vulnerability is entirely of his own making. It’s because he raised taxes when other governors (the above Republicans and Democrats) have either governed without them or spent their first months in office offering alternatives to them.
As long as the governor’s fiscal policy remain questionable and unpopular, there’s no guarantee that the voters will give him More at ’04.
Yes, all that way for a pun.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.