Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Should UNC block hate speech?

UNC President Erskine Bowles is asking a commission to study whether each of the university system's campuses should have a policy blocking hate speech, Mandy Locke reports in this story from the News & Observer.
Bowles was reacting to racist graffiti painted in the Free Expression Tunnel on the N.C. State campus after the Nov. 4 election. It declared, "Shoot that n----r in the head", among other things. The university is disciplining a student who took responsibility for initiating the painting, and four students involved have apologized. The state NAACP has asked that they be suspended. Neither state nor federal authorities have filed charges.
Bowles' concern about the racist speech is understandable. Intolerance and the promotion of violence have no place in a civil society, especially on a university campus. But there remains that other troubling question -- if the First Amendment is to truly mean anything, should it not protect even the most offensive speech? And if not, who decides where the line will be, and whether it moves?
It's also a sensitive issue for the university, which more than four decades ago suffered under the humiliation of a legislatively-imposed Speaker Ban Act that sought to prevent subversive speakers from appearing on state property, including university campuses. That law was passed by the General Assembly while Bowles was a student at Chapel Hill. That law threatened the university's accreditation and led to a prolonged campaign to have it declared unconstitutional, as it ultimately was.
Regulating speech is a tough question in a society that reveres its First Amendment rights to speak out -- but the university is within its rights and its responsibility to consider hate speech and what, if anything, to try to do about it.
What do you think?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Straight scoop on straight party votes

A few more digits for the data-starved post-election numbers addicts: Who are the most reliable straight-ticket voters in North Carolina? The Democrats, who predominate in numbers? You can certainly make that case, but there are some interesting nuances. One is that the Libertarian Party was one hell of a draw in this election.

Democrats represent about 46 percent of all registered voters, but in the election that began Oct. 16 and culminated on Election Day Nov. 4, 58.76% of the straight ticket votes cast went to the Democratic Party. (That's 1,283,486 out of a total 2.1 million straight ticket votes, according to the State Board of Elections Web site.)

While Republicans represent about 32 percent of the registered voters, 40.4 percent of straight-party votes (881,856) went for the Republican ticket.

So you can say that both Democrats and Republicans enjoyed straight-party support in excess of their proportion of registered voters.

This is not quite the same as saying that all those straight-party Democratic ballots were cast by Democrats, or that all those Republican straight-party ballots were cast by Republicans. There may have been a number of straight-ticket ballots cast by unaffiliated voters, who make up 22 percent of the state's registered voters. And of course there might have been some crossover straight tickets, too.

The interesting number to me was the number of straight-party ballots cast for the Libertarian ticket. There are only 3,683 North Carolinians registered as Libertarian, but there were 19,054 ballots cast for the Libertarian ticket. That's five times as many straight-ticket votes as there are registered voters for the Libertarian Party.

Of course, the Libertarian ticket was mighty short compared to the Democrats and Republicans, and Libertarian numbers are relatively tiny. Libertarians got less than 1 percent of the total straight ticket vote. But to draw straight party votes from a group five times the size of the party itself must be gratifying in some way.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Election Day winners: McCain, McCrory, Dole

Election Day winners: McCain, McCrory, Dole

If you're not already saturated with numbers from the Nov. 4 election returns, Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina has some gems. Among them: In votes cast on Election Day itself, Republicans John McCain, Pat McCrory and Elizabeth Dole won North Carolina.

Of course, the election isn't decided just on Election Day anymore. Early voting started October 16 and ended Nov. 1, and Democratic candidates for president, governor and U.S. senator rolled up considerably more votes during that period, enough to win the office after the votes cast on Nov. 4 were added.

The election turnout was 70 percent, best record since the 1968 election.

Here's Bob's full report:
New Data Shows Lopsided Results from Early Voting versus Election Day,
Attached County-by-County Chart Shows Record Voter Turnout Rates
* Obama, Hagan and Perdue each led by more than 300,000 votes after Early Voting, then lost on Election Day
* North Carolina hits 70% turnout of registered voters; eight counties hit 75%
* The worrisome “under-vote” (voters skipping the presidential race) reached only 1.0%
Now that nearly all North Carolina counties have certified their vote counts, more details are emerging about this historic election. A couple localized recounts are still underway and the State Board of Elections will not certify the results until November 25, but new information dramatizes the significance of the Early Voting turnout to the overall election results.
Previous data indicated that Barack Obama led John McCain by nearly 180,000 votes after the Early Voting period, then lost most of that lead with Election Day voters. Because of a glitch in how several counties (including Durham and Wake) reported their returns, the gap between Early Voting and Election Day results was actually much larger than previously reported.
For example, the attached chart indicates that Obama led McCain by about 343,000 votes at the end of the Early Voting period, while McCain outpaced Obama on Election Day by nearly 330,000 votes. After provisional ballots were counted, Obama's lead now stands at 14,179 votes.
Barack Obama: Early Voting - 1,382,121; Election Day - 747,637
John McCain: Early Voting - 1,039,229; Election Day - 1,077,086
The attached chart shows that Kay Hagan led Elizabeth Dole by more than 400,000 votes in the Early Voting period, but Dole led Hagan by 44,000 votes on Election Day.
Bev Perdue led Pat McCrory by 312,000 votes at the end of Early Voting, and then lost by about 170,000 on Election Day.
A few smaller counties have not yet allocated their votes between Election Day and Early Voting, but these lopsided differences are not expected to change.
Overall, more than 4,354,000 of the state's 6,245,000 registered voters cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 70% -- the highest turnout since 1968.
That's a big jump from the 64% turnout in 2004 and all indications are that North Carolina achieved the biggest gain in turnout in the nation -- a bigger jump in voter turnout over 2004 than any other state, according to Democracy North Carolina's review of available data.
Chatham County led the state with a 78% turnout rate, while Warren County led with the biggest jump over its performance in 2004. The heightened participation by African Americans and Democrats, especially during the Early Voting period, means that most of the counties with the biggest jumps in turnout from 2004 to 2008 are in the east; however, these counties are not necessarily among those with highest turnout for this year.
The 10 counties with the highest turnout for 2008 (ranging from 78 to 74%) are: Chatham, Davie, Durham, Moore, Forsyth, Alleghany, Wake, Person, Greene, and Granville.
The 10 counties with the lowest turnout (ranging from 58 to 64%) are: Robeson (last place), Onslow, Swain, Cumberland, Cherokee, Scotland, Hoke, Jackson, McDowell, and Avery.
Democracy North Carolina applauds election officials across the state for a superior performance of their own. The intense preparation, additional investment in Early Voting opportunities, training of poll workers, and problem-solving attitude helped keep problems to a minimum.
Election officials made a special effort to explain the odd nature of North Carolina's straight-party ballot to voters. Under NC law, choosing the straight-party option does not include casting a vote in the presidential race; that must be done separately. Democracy North Carolina and various national organizations have criticized the law, and in years past, reports indicate that as many as 2% of the voters have skipped the presidential contest, or "under voted." Some voters likely intentionally don't want to cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, but it is likely that many of these under votes are caused by confusion with the straight-party option.
Because of media attention and extra education, the under vote this year was barely 1% (4,354,569 voters minus 4,310,770 votes for any presidential candidate = 43,799). However, that is still more than 43,000 voters, enough for continuing concern about the impact of the straight-party ticket on elections in North Carolina.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice for Hagan: Hep 'em all

As Sen.-elect Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, prepares to move to Washington to succeed Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., it's worth considering one hallmark of successful Senators: They're known for first-rate constituent services in the nation's capital. Most every member of Congress with any hopes of staying in the House or Senate understands that, at least on a theoretical level. And my guess is that every member already believes he or she has one of the best constituent-service offices in the nation's history -- staffers who will help run interference with Social Security problems, or passport problems, or Veterans Administration cases, or just rounding up an American flag that's flown over the Capitol for an elementary school class.

But some senators are a lot better at it than others. During the past few years we heard regularly from folks who claimed to have written Dole's office about one matter or another, often but not always seeking help, and who said they never heard back. That's the kind of thing that may be a matter of a simple mistake or a lost communication, but it can also turn a supporter into an opponent. Perhaps it's one of the things that turned Elizabeth Dole into a one-term senator.

My guess is Hagan's uncle, former Sen. Lawton Chiles, D-FL, had a pretty good operation, too. She saw it from the inside when she worked there for a while, so no doubt she understands the value.

Hagan ought to give some thought to how the offices of two conservative icons ran their constituent service organizations. The late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., had a crackerjack outfit that had the reputation of jumping to help any North Carolinian with a problem in Washington or with any federal agency.

And the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., may have set the gold standard. I was reading about this recently in a book of reminiscences, "The Centennial Senators." Lee Bandy, reporter and columnist for The State in newspaper (and an old friend from my Washington days), says that when Thurmond was asked what he liked best about the job, he would always say, "Hep'n people."

Duke Short, Thurmond's top aide who pulled the book together after Thurmond's death, said Thurmond used to tell his staff, "It doesn't matter to me what your job is. We're here to help people. And if you can't help people, we're going to help you go somewhere else real quick." Short recalled that Thurmond always gave this answer for how he'd like to be remembered: "Hep'n people! All the people."

Evidently it didn't matter who you were. As Short noted, if you were from South Carolina, or went to school in South Carolina, or once lived in South Carolina, or were related to people from South Carolina, or had driven through South Carolina, or had once been to the beach in South Carolina, that was good enough to get help from Thurmond's office. I think that's essentially the way Helms' office handled the job. It evidently didn't matter who you were or whether you liked what the senators did on other issues. If you needed help, you got it.

Considering that Thurmond served in the Senate for about half a century, and that Helms served 30 years and never lost a race, a new senator with hopes for a long tenure in Washington ought to think pretty carefully about the value of hep'n people.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Feeling sandbagged? Take a gander

If you've wondered what the fuss is about the state requiring the removal of sandbags along the N.C. coast where permits have expired, and don't know what those sandbags look like, the state is giving you a way to take a look. The Division of Coastal Management has created a Web site through Google Earth that lets you click on problem spots so you can see for yourself. The Web site is at
These are not little sandbags of the sort you see thrown around during floods out West. These are big sand-filled monsters, and there are something like 358 of them along the coast. They are allowed under state law that prohibits certain "hardened" structures such as seawalls, which can cause erosion at nearby property. The law allows temporary sandbags to help stabilize property threatened by the sea, but there are time limits.
Jim Gregson, director of the Division of Coastal Management in Morehead City, told attendees at the annual conference of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association Monday that the state ordered 150 of the sandbags removed by May of this year, while another 65 were covered by sand and vegetation and thus not subject to be removed. The remainder will have to be removed, but the state isn't going after every one all at once because there might be a flood of appeals for variances. The state sent out a letter to 23 property owners whose sandbags are a priority to remove. Those are the ones on the interactive Web site. You can click on the teardrop-shaped icons along the coast to see exactly what they look like. Here's a link.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Smoke: The barbecue aristocracy

Standing there in Raleigh's upscale new barbecue restaurant The Pit last night was an amazing group woven deeply into North Carolina's cultural fabric. No, not the literati, though some of them were there. Not the business elite, nor the political elite, though a few of them were there. These were truly important folks who have worn familiar names to anyone with an appreciation for what my friend Dennis Rogers once called the Holy Grub. These were some, though hardly all, of North Carolina's barbecue aristocracy -- names such as Wilber Shirley, Samuel Jones, Ed Mitchell and Chip Stamey.
They were gathered on this rare occasion to launch a new and most worthy book about Tar Heel barbecue -- "Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue." Published by UNC Press, which has become a major celebrant of N.C. cooking, the book is not meant so much as a guide to barbecue restaurants, such as Bob Garner's ground-breaking Guide to North Carolina Barbecue, an indispensible reference work. This one is about the people, the recipes and lore of N.C. barbecue, according to authors John Shelton Reed, his spouse Dale Volberg Reed and William McKinney.
As the group stood in front of the crowd at The Pit -- which features Ed Mitchell's outstanding barbecue and ribs, among other things -- I thought how vast a trove of barbecue experience that group represented and how far their families go back into N.C. barbecue history. Samuel Jone's grandfather the late Pete Jones founded the Skylight Inn in Ayden, a not-to-be missed barbecue restaurant; Chip Stamey's grandfather Warner Stamey started the Stamey's barbecue restaurants in Greensboro where I grew up, but he's part of an extended family whose blood kin includes those who run outstanding BBQ places in Lexington and Shelby and who have trained many others who now run their own places -- such as a favorite of mine, Fuzzy's in the Madison-Mayodan area.
I asked Chip Stamey's father, Charles Stamey, why he had never opened a barbecue restaurant in Charlotte, where he would have been sure to find hungry customers. "Well, we all like to think that everyone likes everything we like," he mused, but he wasn't sure that was so. "Folks used to ask me to open one in Richmond, and we could have done that. But it might have taken a long time to adjust things to folks' taste there." But staying in Greensboro, where the family's first restaurant opened near what is now the Greensboro Coliseum (it was the fairgrounds them), allowed the family to concentrate on what they knew best -- selling barbecue made from pork shoulders, in the Lexington style.
What I like so much about this book is that the authors have carefully recorded first-person accounts of how these barbecue restaurateurs go about their business. It is as if they turned on the mike, asked the right question and got out of the way. It's not that easy, I know, but the authors made this a mighty easy read. Reading Chip Stamey's account of how the Greensboro Stamey's changed -- and about his own campaign to keep the menu traditional while his father was trying to simplify and streamline the family's offering -- is a fascinating account of how seriously these folks take their obligation to provide us all with the world's best barbecue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

North Carolina's four U.S. Senators

For those who like to keep track of all things related to North Carolina, here's some trivia: How many North Carolinians are there in the U.S. Senate right now?

Depending on how you define the term, there are four: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, reared in Salisbury (and defeated by state Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro, a Shelby native, in last week's election), and Sen. Richard Burr, from Winston-Salem. Both Dole and Burr are Republicans; Hagan is a Democrat.

And there are at least two senators who are N.C. natives (native, as in (born in' as opposed to 'reared in') but who represent other states.

One of them is West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, an aging parliamentarian who was born in Wilkes County, and whom the Democratic leadership recently persuaded to step down from leadership of the appropriations committee because of his advanced age. He'll be 91 next week. Byrd was born on Nov. 20, 1917. Wikipedia's entry says this: "Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr., in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1917. When he was one year old, his mother, Ada Mae Kirby, died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father, Cornelius Calvin Sale, dispersed the family children among relatives. Sale Jr. was given to the custody of an aunt and an uncle, Vlurma and Titus Byrd, who renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia." Curiously, Byrd, a Democrat, is a former Ku Klux Klan member, way back in his youth, who endorsed Barack Obama for president.

The other Tar Heel native in the Senate is Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss. As my former colleague Dave Ingram notes in an e-mail from Washington, where he now works for Legal Times, Chambliss was born in Warrenton in Warren County in 1943. Chambliss later graduated from high school in Louisiana and went to the University of Georgia. Chambliss, a Republican, is locked in a Dec. 2 runoff with Democrat Jim Martin, an Atlanta native.

Ok, one more piece of trivia. Of the four current U.S. senators and the one senator-elect mentioned in this blog, which one is not a North Carolina native? It's Richard Burr, a native of Charlottesville, Va.

(And just to take note: That's the same state -- excuse me, commonwealth -- from whence Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue came to this state to eventually become the first woman elected lieutenant governor and governor of this state. She's a native of Grundy, Va.)

(Which other recent N.C. governor was born elsewhere? Gov. Jim Martin, governor from 1985-1993, born in Savannah, Ga. And no, that’s not the same Jim Martin running against Saxby Chambliss.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Next up -- Richard Burr?

It's no secret that the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has turned over regularly since 1974. Since Sen. Sam Ervin retired, occupants of that seat have barely had a six-year hold on the office. The other Senate seat was held by Jesse Helms for five straight terms before Sen. Elizabeth Dole held it just one term -- losing last week to state Sen. Kay Hagan. Prior to this year, some Democrats may have been thinking they couldn't pick up another Senate seat until Burr came up for re-election.
Now Public Policy Polling -- which has seen its reputation soar during the 2008 election -- says Burr has a challenge ahead of him because his approval rating wad low in July --about 27 %. That may not bode well for his reelection hopes, but Burr has confounded political observers before with his successful one-on-one style of campaigning that reaches a lot more voters than it first appears to. And no doubt with Dole's loss and the low approval rating that PPP detected at mid-summer, Burr will be running hard and keeping fences mended.
Here's Tom Jensen's analysis:
North Carolina:

Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina has just a 27% approval rating, according to a PPP survey conducted in July.

It's not that the voters dislike Burr- there are slightly more who approve of the job he's doing than disapprove. But a remarkably high 46% of them are ambiguous toward him.

That fact makes Burr pretty vulnerable for reelection in two years. Incumbency is a huge advantage, but much less so when the voters don't even really know who you are. And a 46% 'not sure' rating for a US Senator shows he's not doing much to attract the voters' attention.

After seeing Kay Hagan knock Elizabeth Dole many of the folks who declined to run in 2008 will no doubt be chomping at the bit for a second chance in 2010. PPP will begin testing possible matchups for that race soon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

McCrory's 'best shot': Congress?

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes that Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who had never lost an election before losting to Democrat Bev Perdue in last week's governor's race, may have a tough fight on his hands if he runs for mayor for an eighth term. He also suggests that McCrory's "best shot for higher office is probably replacing Sue Myrick in Congress" one day. Read on:

Pat McCrory had never lost an election in Charlotte- until Tuesday. While Bev Perdue's margin of victory in Mecklenburg County was pretty small, her victory in the city itself was much greater- about 10 percent.

The fact that McCrory couldn't even win the city he's Mayor of in his quest to be elected Governor has some interesting implications moving forward. One reason he's had such ease getting reelected as Mayor over and over again is that the Democrats have put forth weak opponents against him. That will not be the case if he chooses to seek another term in 2009 with popular At Large City Councilman Anthony Foxx already announced as a candidate and other strong Democrats potentially in the mix as well. He may have to fight if he wants to keep his current post.

What about another bid for Governor? McCrory won 14 out of 18 counties within the Charlotte tv market, but lost 56 of the other 82 across the state. It's unclear whether he really has that much appeal outside his home base. He didn't connect with rural voters, which meant that Bev Perdue was able to win a lot of counties where Barack Obama lost. Republicans may want to nominate someone who can fare better in every different part of the state.

Where does that leave him? I think McCrory's best shot for higher office is probably replacing Sue Myrick in Congress at some point. He did quite well in Gaston and Union Counties, and conceivably the Mecklenburg part of the 9th Congressional District as well. Democrats are not likely to be particularly competitive for that seat any time soon, meaning it could be McCrory's for the taking whenever it comes open.
This is also available on our blog:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Keeping score: Rand was right

Keeping score -- and Rand was right
For those who keep tabs of the score, a couple of weeks ago former N.C. Free analyst John Davis projected that Republicans might pick up enough support to control the state Senate. Among those he forecast might win were Kathy Harrington, Republican challenger to longtime Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston.
Senate Democratic leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said it wouldn't happen, that perhaps no more than a couple Democrats might be in jeopardy. Tuesday's election proved Rand right. Democrats lost a net of just one seat in the Senate, and Hoyle, long a champion of open government in the Senate, won his race with 51.5 percent of the vote in a Republican-voting county. It's a sign of the Senate Finance Committee chairman's political strength that he has consistently won in a county that usually favors the other party. Hoyle had gotten criticism from the Observer about his votes promoting a toll road not far from his property, but Senate ethics experts said it did not conflict with any ethics policy and that Hoyle would not have profited any more than any other person who had property in the area.
Other high-profile races in which Democrats held on: State Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus, and Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover.
For the record, the Senate lineup when the 2009 General Assembly convenes will be 30 Democrats, 20 Republicans.

Perdue won Meck by 2 votes per precinct

For those who thought Democrat Bev Perdue wouldn't do well in Mecklenburg, where Republican Pat McCrory won seven terms as Charlotte mayor, here's the answer: She did run over the mayor, but she barely beat him with 49.04% of the vote --198,631 in all -- to McCrory's 48.94% of the vote -- 198,246. It was a grand total of a 385-vote edge for Perdue. With 195 precincts in Mecklenburg, that's a difference of less than 2 votes per precinct.
It's a reminder that a Democratic candidate can do well in Mecklenburg -- but other Democrats did a lot better. Barack Obama won 61.8 percent of the vote in the presidential race and Kay Hagon won 61.6 percent, with a 100,000 vote cushion over their opponents.
Maybe one difference was Perdue's Eastern N.C. ads critical of the Charlotte mayor and suggesting the big-city folks couldn't understand rural needs. Or maybe it was reflective of the struggle Perdue had in a number of places to persuade voters she deserved to be governor.
Still, fans of ACC basketball understand this: blowout or a narrow in, a W is still a W and counts just as much in the final standings.

Undervote back to normal?

Undervote back to normal?
In 2000 and 2004 a lot of North Carolinians didn't cast ballots in the presidential race -- far more than the roughly 1 percent that normally might choose not to vote for any candidate in that race. The falloff those years was up to three times the normal rate. How about Tuesday? The State Board of Elections Web site reports that 4,293,645 ballots were cast overall, but 4,248,285 ballots were cast in the presidential race. That's a falloff of 45,360, if my math is right -- .0105644 of a falloff. Here's the elections board website, in case the numbers get updated.

2pm update: Joyce McCloy of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting reminds me that a lot of those in the falloff category were provisional ballots, and that may be an indication that there were even fewer ballots in the category of "undervote" or "falloff" than first appeared.

Update Thursday: the actual falloff in voting was more like 24,000 -- well below what voting experts say could normally be expected among voters who choose not to vote for a presidential candidate.

As I've said, I don't like straight-ticket voting. I'm a ticket-splitter. But in this case it certainly appears that election officials did a good job reminding voters that North Carolina's straight-ticket voting process does NOT include the presidential race. Still, it's something the legislature ought to fix. Any system that fools even a few voters into thinking they've voted needs work.
And it makes you wonder why 45,360 people didn't vote for any candidate.
Oh -- and the elections board says turnout was 68.56 percent of the state's 6,262,566 voters.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Only 3 governors in 32 years?

A Raleigh reader's question about this week's column reminds me of this point about today's election for governor: N.C. voters are choosing only the fourth different person since 1976 to be governor.
Thanks to the 1976 Constitutional amendment that allowed governors to run for and serve a second consecutive term in office, we've seen Democrat Jim Hunt serve two straight terms, then Republican Jim Martin serve two, then Jim Hunt serve another two, then Democrat Mike Easley serve two. That's eight gubernatorial terms, but only three people since President Gerald Ford left office. Either Democrat Bev Perdue or Republican Pat McCrory will become the fourth person to be elected governor in the past 32 or so years.
All this comes to mind because a reader wondered about a line in the column which said "Democratic presidential candidates have won nationally three times" since 1964. The reader thought that meant I was saying that three different Democrats had been elected president, but that's not the case with that particularly grammatical construction. The Democratic candidates who won three times were Jimmy Carter once (1976) and Bill Clinton twice (1992 and 1996).
But the reader had a closer point about the way I wrote that "N.C. voters did elect three Republican governors…." It was, of course, only two different persons. They elected Republican Jim Holshouser for one term in 1972, before governors could run for another term, and Republican Jim Martin twice, in 1984 and 1988.
This is also a reminder that the Era of the Jims officially ended years ago. Unless the winner of today's gubernatorial election changes his or her name, we're well out of the time when only a Jim could win. From Holshouser in 1972 to Jim Hunt's final term ending in 2000, all our governors were named Jim. OK, that's only three Jims, but they served seven different terms in office.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The flash in the pan

With all the excitement of the 2008 election campaign peaking today and Tuesday, and Republican hopes for a huge get-out-the-vote effort to counter the prospect of a Democratic sweep of major offices in North Carolina, something's missing from this campaign: John Edwards, the form-out-of-nowhere candidate whose 10 years in N.C. politics reflected both a meteoric rise and catastrophic fall in state politics. My colleague at the N&O Rob Christensen mentioned the Edwards phenomenon the other day in a column, and his case is an example of how briefly even a bright flash in the pan can shine. Edwards, Christensen thought, might have made Chapel Hill the site of the Southern White House before it all blew up.

Edwards was a political unknown prior to the 1998 Senate race, when he was a fairly well-known trial lawyer who hadn't bothered to even vote in a lot of campaigns. But he knocked off U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., who had long been a staple of N.C. politics as both a Democrat and later a Republican. Before his first two years in the Senate were up, Edwards was already being talked about for the presidential ticket. He was briefly considered for Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and was John Kerry's running mate in 2004.
He was running for the top post in 2007 when rumors began to circulate about an affair with a campaign worker -- hotly denied by those around him. Edward's campaign rumbled to a halt earlier this year when it became apparent that the Democratic primary race was between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards endorsed Obama, but there still was talk of a bright future for Edwards in Washington -- perhaps a Cabinet post. Attorney General? Secretary of Labor? All that talk stopped when Edwards admitted during the summer that he had indeed had an affair in 2006 with a former campaign staffer -- an admission that looked all that much worse because of his wife Elizabeth Edwards' struggle with cancer.
Edward's decade in the political limelight is tailor-made for the plot of a steamy political novel. But it's hard to see an opportunity for a political comeback, even in fiction.