Opinion: Daily Journal

Erskine Bowles — But Not Well

RALEIGH – North Carolina’s Democratic establishment is trying desperately to recreate Erskine Bowles as a man of the people, going as far as to employ the obvious play on words – Erskine “Bowls”! – to give him a populist sheen.

It just won’t take. Bowles, born of a prominent political family and married into one of the great textile fortunes of the Carolinas, has few of the talents of a Jim Hunt, a Mike Easley, or even a John Edwards. He is stiff, painfully earnest, and obviously full of it when he has his “game face” on.

Having spent a healthy chunk of change already in his quest for the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Jesse Helms, Bowles has yet to see his poll numbers move significantly. A recent Elon University poll confirmed what should have been obvious to many: there isn’t a lot of interest in the U.S. Senate race right now, with international events, the shaky economy, and North Carolina’s fiscal meltdown claiming the spotlight instead.

Not that the rest of the Democratic field is achieving great distinction. I heard Secretary of State Elaine Marshall on public radio this afternoon, and she proceeded to talk for roughly 10 minutes about, well, I just can’t seem to remember. Oh, yes, she is a woman. That’s important, she says.

House Speaker Dan Blue has the most compelling resume for the job, but his campaign can’t seem to get off the ground. It is a myth that the candidate who raises the most money necessarily wins (often it works the other way, in that the best and most salable candidate tends to attract the most support from party stalwarts). But you do need a minimum amount of money to get your message out to potential supporters, and Blue hasn’t raised it, yet. That may well be a sign that he has yet to mend the rift created in recent years over leadership fights in the N.C. House. It may also reflect the (false) conclusion of some Democrat insiders, based on two losses by Harvey Gantt, that a black candidate still can’t win statewide.

The cable newschannel commentariat claims that 9/11 and the Middle East will dominate the November elections. There’s no evidence of this yet in our Senate race, with Marshall and Blue spending most of their time attacking Bowles for his flip-flip on free trade – illustrating either the economic ignorance or the duplicity of all three – and playing the “average Joe” card. Likely GOP nominee Elizabeth Dole is also saying little about foreign affairs. It’s hard to imagine a more important issue for Senate candidates to discuss, so one can only hope that all involved will abandon their atmospherics and phony populism and talk about specific policies and programs.