SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Does Easley Have a Plan for 2008?
There's a new fellow in town these days.
He's making the rounds with Democratic political candidates, telling anyone who'll listen how great they are, pumping the well-heeled to give generously.
You may have heard his name. Goes by Easley, Mike Easley.
After six years of avoiding the duties of North Carolina's Democrat-in-chief, Gov. Mike Easley has suddenly saddled up that donkey to ride her for all she is worth.
Easley has appeared at a fundraiser for House Democrats. He's making calls to donors on behalf of legislative Democrats. He's even cozying up to some union folks, including the State Employees Association of North Carolina, with whom he has long been feuding.
For years, Easley has shown open disdain for this kind of in-the-trenches politicking. His avoidance of the back-slapping and elbow-rubbing is why the governor has enjoyed more popularity among voters at-large than with the party regulars.
So, what's changed? Well, that's the question many political insiders are asking.
The most obvious answer is that Easley suddenly has his eye on a future political office.
In the past, Easley has said that he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate. But one of the state's top Democrats recently told me that might be changing. He remarked that Easley's love of political strategy may be pulling him to rethink a few things.
Given his past performances in statewide elections, Easley would be the obvious Democratic choice to run for Senate in 2008, regardless of whether Republican Elizabeth Dole seeks another term in the seat.
Key Democrats are telling Easley that he should consider it. State Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said as much recently, telling me that he made the suggestion to the governor a couple of months back.
Easley, though, has never served in a legislature. People who know him well question whether, given his independent, quirky personality, he'd really enjoy life in Washington as a U.S. senator.
But perhaps he has his eye on another prize.
Another prominent Democrat in the state could emerge as his party's front-runner for president in 2008. And if John Edwards were to be elected president, one of his first tasks would be to select Cabinet officers.
On paper, Easley -- the career prosecutor and former state attorney general -- would make an attractive candidate for U.S. attorney general, for Edwards or any other Democratic president. Then again, maybe all this speculation spawned by the governor's sudden attention to all things Democrat will prove baseless.
Perhaps Easley is simply stepping into a void created by House Speaker Jim Black's legal troubles. Perhaps he's recognized that his agenda might not fare well in a Republican-controlled House. Perhaps Jim Hunt or some other old guard Democrat has browbeat him into action.
Whatever the case, the speculation probably won't be going away any time soon. It rarely does when 56-year-old governors enter the home stretch of their final term.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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