Monday, August 27, 2012

North Carolina Governor Race

Race of the Day

North Carolina Governor

August 27, 2012
71 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Despite being a Sunbelt state that has seen tremendous GOP growth since the 1970s, the Republican Party has been stymied and frustrated by their inability to win the Governorship of the Tar Heel State since 1988. This time, they think, for good reason, they will finally break the losing streak.

Back in 2008, when the Governorship was up for grabs, Republicans were quite optimistic up until the end as well, as they believed their nominee, then Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory had the right kind of image to keep conservative rural voters, while also attracting enough urban voters from his city and suburbanites to win statewide. The race was competitive, but many considered McCrory the slight favorite over Democrat Lt. Governor Bev Perdue. However, on Election Day, a very high voter turnout, particularly among young voters and African-Americans who were motivated by the Presidential candidacy of Barack Obama came out to vote, as Obama narrowly won the state and Perdue received just over 50 percent of the vote to become the first female Governor of North Carolina.

Soon after that disappointing defeat, McCrory decided he would not seek another term as Mayor of Charlotte, and most expected that he would be preparing for another shot at the Governorship. His task was perhaps made easier by the rocky road Perdue had as Governor from almost as soon as she was sworn in. She dealt with an investigation over financial misconduct during her 2008 race, took the unpopular position on several issues where she was opposed by her state legislature, and was roundly criticized in 2011 for remarks in which she expressed the idea that Congressional elections should be suspended, in deference to the Presidential efforts of Obama. Her aides later classified those remarks as a joke. By early 2012, facing a difficult reelection challenge, including a potential primary battle, Perdue announced she would not seek a second term as Governor. This was all quite embarrassing for a Governor who had been considered a rising star in the party, in a state that had already been awarded the 2012 national convention of the incumbent President's party. The landscape for North Carolina Democrats was troubled even more after a 2012 vote in which voters overwhelmingly voted to not allow same sex marriage. Obama reacted by quickly coming out in favor of those marriages, as many considered the fact that North Carolina, while still a very competitive state in the Presidential race, is probably one that Democrats will not be able to hold on to.

While McCrory, who as expected did run again, was able to walk away with his party's nomination, Democrats had a much more competitive contest. The end result is that for the second consecutive election, McCrory will be facing off against the sitting Lt. Governor. The state's Attorney General, perhaps the most politically formidable of any Democrat in the state declined to run, but ultimately the primary came down to a Lt. Governor Walter Dalton and Bob Etheridge, a Congressman, who had lost his seat in the 2010 midterms. As the favored candidate, Dalton went on to win the May primary by a few points over Etheridge, eclipsing the 40 percent threshold which would have caused a runoff. That was good news for the party.

Before, the primary and since, polls have consistently shown McCrory ahead of Dalton in the general election. Those polls also show an amount of undecided voters who could easily sway the election, as well as a larger than usual chunk of people saying they will vote for Barbara Howe, a former Libertarian State Party Chair, who is their nominee for Governor, as she was in 2000 and 2004. If the election is truly close at the end, she can certainly play the role of spoiler.

The fact that there will not be such a surge of Democrats coming to the polls in 2012 for the historic first time candidacy of Obama will make it more difficult for Dalton and his party to surpass what the polls are showing. Still, the Presidential race is probably going to come down to five points or less and the Gubernatorial election has to be considered competitive. Longtime residents of the state are expected to heavily favor Romney and McCrory (although they are not exactly good old boys), while the growing population of transplanted residents, many of whom are not from the south, are more likely to favor Democrats.

Economic difficulties, a desire for change, and the unpopularity of Perdue are all factors working in McCrory's favor though. It will be interesting to see the ways that Perdue as the host Governor and Dalton as the party's nominee are featured at next week's national convention in Charlotte. There might be ample opportunity for McCrory, who was Mayor of the city not long ago, to get media attention delivering the Republican message as part of the contrast.

On average, polls are showing the Republican ahead by 6 points, and even the Democrat associated Public Policy Polling firm, which is out of North Carolina, is stating that he is favored to pick up that office for his party and become the first GOP Governor in a generation.

McCrory campaign link:

2012 Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 2 D, 4 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 14 D, 1 I, 30 R