SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Best-Laid Political Strategies
In political circles, people already are weighing in on what the election results mean. Even embattled House Speaker Jim Black took a public stab at it, telling reporters that the outcome likely marks the end of bipartisan cooperation in the House for some time to come.
Here's what is not in dispute:
-- Two Republican incumbent legislators, former House Co-Speaker Richard Morgan of Moore County and Rep. Rick Eddins of Wake County, lost. Another Republican incumbent, Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Lenoir County, trailed by nine votes in unofficial returns and faced a recount.
-- All three, at times, cooperated with Democrats. Because of that behavior, they became targets within their own party. The state Republican Party, in an unprecedented move, actively worked for Morgan's opponent, Joe Boylan.
-- All three were targeted with campaign mailers financed by wealthy retailer and former state Rep. Art Pope of Wake County. The 527 group that sent out the mailers -- the Republican Legislative Majority of North Carolina -- spent at least $100,000 from Pope's corporate entities, according to mid-April Internal Revenue Service filings. Pope says the group spent less than $250,000 altogether.
-- The elections, with no big statewide races on the ballot, may well have set historic lows for participation.
In Raleigh, on the day after the elections, Pope's name was on a lot of lips. Black said legislative Republicans, knowing what Pope had done to some of their brethren, would now fear voting with Democrats.
"Art Pope, with his millions and millions and millions of dollars, made a great splash last night," Black said.
Pope's response: "If Jim Black wants to make Art Pope the issue, it's going to fail."
Pope says Black is the issue, and that cooperation with him harmed Republicans like Morgan once the public became aware of the scandals swirling around the speaker.
But bigger issues than Black, and the investigations into his campaign finances, are in play here.
Will Morgan's absence from the House bring an end to three years of bitter feuding among politically active Republicans in North Carolina, or will GOP activists simply look for a new bogeyman in their midst?
Will a more conservative House and General Assembly result, or will Democrats' hand be strengthened, with far-right, unelectable Republicans nominated in swing districts? Will Pope become the dominant figure in state Republican politics for years to come, or is his behind-the-scenes success just a temporary blip on the political radar?
Even the most astute observer of state politics couldn't accurately answer these questions today. At least a few years will have to pass.
Of this, I am sure: While the political class eyes Republican feuding, corruption probes, or changing voter demographics, events and forces not yet envisioned will shake up the best-laid plans of mice and the best-laid political strategies of men.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh@nc insider.com.
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