Paul O'Connor, a columnist for the Winston-Salem Journal, has written an interesting piece about a slim-to-none scenario that could unfold in the 2008 gubernatorial race. He apparently agrees with me that the candidates in the general will be Beverly Perdue and Fred "the Asphalt King" Smith. In the column, O'Connor lays out the makings of a "perfect storm" (some of which seem likely to happen) which leads to this conclusion:
The scandals involving Democratic House Speaker Jim Black get worse. Either Black gets indicted or others do. People go to jail. Hillary Clinton leads the 2008 national ticket, and there is no strong Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore have an ugly primary in the race for governor.
Over on the Republican side, the president's popularity remains low as the war grinds on. The GOP nominates one of its less-than-stellar gubernatorial wannabes after an ugly, ugly campaign. The party's Art Pope and Richard Morgan factions continue to feud.
Republicans don't want to vote for Republicans; Democrats don't want to vote for Democrats; and independents are nauseated.
It's an interesting scenario, but I think it misses the boat on two fronts. First, while the scandals around Black will get worse, it will not drag down the Democratic Party. Black will be indicted, but he will not be Speaker of the House when that happens. And second, the Perdue-Moore primary will not be ugly. It will be expensive and stupid, but it will not ugly. Perdue will win the primary and she will emerge far stronger than Smith, who will have to run hard to the right to beat Bill Graham.
Under such circumstances, an independent candidate for governor who wants to talk about real issues might walk onto the stage . . . Orr, 60, left the court 2 1/2 years ago to lead the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law. At the time, everyone figured he was planning to run for higher office. He's about the best politician to hold a high-court seat in recent memory. He's won four statewide races. He's moderate in his conservatism, a good public speaker, well liked on both sides of the political aisle and sharp.
Orr could run in between candidates like Democrat Perdue on the left and Republican Sen. Fred Smith on the right. Both will spend the primary season drifting to the extremes to satisfy their bases while Orr could sit naturally in the center.
Despite my wishes to the contrary, Perdue will not be running "on the left." She is a centrist on most issues with an uncanny sense of what North Carolina is all about. She will be progressive on a few issues (energy and choice, for example) but right down the middle on most. Smith on the other hand, will have to show up as a government-hating wacko to win the Party of Greed nomination. The general election will be no contest.
But the most interesting thing about O'Connor's column has nothing to do with the big scenario. It has to do with Art Pope.
He's (Orr) got only one piece of significant baggage. The institute for which he works is part of the Art Pope empire of think tanks. He might be seen as Pope's tool.
It must be tough being the Puppetmaster. Here we are two years away from an election, and even a middle-of-the-road pundit like O'Connor agrees that being associated with Art Pope is a kiss of death in the public arena. I couldn't agree more.