Cross posted with other weekly columns here
As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, March 10th:
During the past two months Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore, both seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor, have been sniping at each other like the election is tomorrow. Problem being that it’s not for another 14 months.
Last month the Moore campaign tried to attack Perdue by dredging up 10-year-old statements she made about the death penalty and criticizing campaign donations she received while still a state senator. Perdue’s camp behaved in an equally petty matter, with her finance chair e-mailing supporters an article in Forbes Magazine that questioned Moore’s campaign contributions.
So what’s the impact of all this action been? Basically nothing; in a poll done this week by Raleigh’s Public Policy Polling Perdue holds a 10-point lead. In the same poll done in January she held a 12-point lead. The race is being defined by lots of interpersonal drama, but very little movement.
Perdue and Moore have each done a lot of great work for North Carolina during their time in statewide office and have solid, thoughtful ideas for the future of our state. Moore has been a tremendous leader on financial issues not just here but on a national basis, and Perdue has traditionally been a strong leader on military and education issues.
They would be well served to quit the banal bickering that is antagonizing many Democrats across the state and focus instead on the positive work they intend to do if elected Governor. There’s plenty of time for in-fighting at a more appropriate juncture, like maybe next March, right before the election.
It can be hard when you’re on the inside of a campaign to remember that no one cares as much about the minutiae of the race as you do. The reality, though, is that when it comes to this sort of insider baseball drama, the general public does not care. This poll shows how little impact it’s having on the race, so hopefully these two candidates, who both have so much to offer, will move beyond these “gotcha” issues to things more pertinent to the future of North Carolina.
On the Republican side there continues to be no candidate who gains any traction. In fact three of four candidates have lower percentages of the vote than they did in January, with the number of undecideds spiking up.
Conservative activist Bill Graham still leads but went from 24 to 20 percent, possibly because more respondents have become aware of the fact that he’s not the Rev. Billy Graham. State Sen. Robert Pittenger has similarly declined from 10 to 6 percent after a well-publicized spat with Congresswoman Sue Myrick that exposed him to be over ambitious and under-intelligent.
His Senate colleague Fred Smith went down 4 points as well. The only candidate getting any traction is former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, and though he’s up from his January performance, he actually had a small dip this month from a February poll.
Some folks have speculated that if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for president next year it could drag down the rest of the ticket. But the only way one of these Republican gubernatorial candidates is getting elected is if the Democrats nominate Al Sharpton or Dennis Kucinich.
In the lieutenant governor’s race the biggest leader is undecided with 62 percent of the vote. Still Pat Smathers, the mayor of the small Western North Carolina community of Canton, is out to a small lead that has surprised many political observers. A look at the events page on his website may hold the clue to his success though, as in the next two weeks he is scheduled to be at functions in Morganton, Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington. Keeping up this intense statewide travel schedule has historically been the key to winning these lower-profile statewide races, and Smathers is doing it.
Although Smathers has the slight lead right now, all the candidates are pretty evenly matched. Former Mike Easley aide Hampton Dellinger, who grew up in Chapel Hill, has focused much of his energy on fundraising and has accumulated a considerable war chest. Walter Dalton, who finished second in this latest round of the poll, is busy serving in the state Senate and is also likely to be a formidable fundraiser. Winston-Salem Councilman Dan Besse is the top choice of many in progressive circles and could have a strong grassroots presence behind him further down the line.
There’s been a lot of discussion nationally about how much action is happening so early in the presidential race, and the same is holding true across North Carolina. There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with that, but it would be great if the candidates used the increased amount of time and attention devoted to the races to communicate their views to the voters rather than ripping each other to pieces.