RALEIGH – I have a feeling that North Carolina and the nation may make a little history in 2008, but what would be really, really great is if we didn’t have to hear about it incessantly.
By which I mean that 2008 seems likely to bring out a bumper crop of candidates who smash traditional barriers– and it would be a sign of progress and respect not to dwell on that fact. I wouldn’t go as far as former Clinton consigliore Dick Morris does in predicting this with absolute certainty, for example, but there is a good case to be made that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be the strongest Republican to take her on in the general election.
As for vice presidential prospects, three names worth notice on the Democratic side are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and California Sen. Diane Feinstein. One Republican rising star to watch is Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who could be running strong for governor of that critical swing state a year from now. Another is Michael Steele, Maryland’s lieutenant governor and a possible U.S. Senate candidate next year.
Closer to home, Elizabeth Dole is currently expected to seek re-election as the senior senator from North Carolina. Last time around, Democrats chose Erskine Bowles over primary foes Dan Blue, the former speaker of the N.C. House, and Elaine Marshall, the secretary of state. Bowles is obviously out of contention. Will Blue and Marshall take another stab at it?
For governor, the Democrats could well end up nominating Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, formerly a powerful member of the General Assembly. By far the best-known Republican considering a 2008 run is U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, formerly the mayor of Charlotte, whose favorability rating (25 percent) wasn’t much below Perdue’s (33 percent) in a recent Civitas Institute poll of statewide voters.
(Some eastern Republicans grimace when I mention Myrick’s candidacy, citing the old notion of the “Charlotte curse.” They are simply behind the times. The electoral math has now clear: GOP candidates for governor have no chance unless they are competitive in Mecklenburg and Wake counties while winning handily the Piedmont counties and suburban rings around Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Raleigh.)
A major risk here is that political punditry will spend far too much time dwelling on the demographics of the 2008 cycle and too little time treating these candidates seriously as potential presidents, senators, and governors. One of the annoyances for conservatives – and there are many –in the Harriet Miers controversy is how quickly the Bush White House played the “first woman to …” card in the absence of making cogent, relevant arguments about her judicial philosophy or approach to thorny constitutional issues. It was so, well, 1980s of them. Treating individuals as individuals means not fixating on their symbolic representation of groups, “oppressed” or not.
There will be time enough later on to recognize whatever history is made in the 2008 political season. Real progress will be signified by how infrequently we hear “first ever” phrases and how often we hear specific discussion of war, terror, growth, taxes, schools, transportation, and the other critical issues facing the state and nation.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.