FLORENCE GILKESON: Mixed Bag: Unaffiliated Candidates Fared Differently
It worked for Joe Lieberman in Connecticut but not so well here in North Carolina.
The conservative Democrat who was Al Gore's vice-presidential running mate in 2000 was elected as an unaffiliated candidate for his senatorial seat last week. Lieberman fended off both the Republican candidate and the Democrat who beat Lieberman in that party's Connecticut primary.
But closer to home, voters don't appear all that fond of unaffiliated candidates.
Moore County voters realize now that two unaffiliated candidates for state House of Representatives simply lacked the clout to contest the power of the Republican Party, despite deep-seated divisions within the GOP.
In nearby Scotland County, where I live, two unaffiliated candidates for sheriff also fell to the power of a deeply entrenched Democratic Party. And nobody had much money there.
Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong scored a victory at the polls against unaffiliated and write-in candidates. Nifong was under fire for his handling of a controversial case involving the Duke lacrosse team, and the last-minute candidates apparently hoped to make a hit with disgruntled voters.
In each case, the background is different.
Here in Moore County, the public is more or less familiar with a situation in which the state Republican Party stepped in and successfully supported the campaign of a candidate more to the state leadership's liking. State GOP leaders had long been dissatified with state Rep. Richard Morgan, who had risen through the ranks to hold a powerful state legislative position.
At the local level, however, county GOP leaders were unhappy with what they saw as interference in their party's activities.
The Scotland County situation is one with which I am very familiar -- although, happily, not as a participant, other than as a voter.
Shep Jones, a deputy sheriff and a member of the Scotland County Board of Education, won the Democratic primary in May, when he defeated both the incumbent sheriff and another Democrat. All three men are experienced lawmen.
It just so happens that Jones is black and lives in a county where the minority population is much larger than it is, say, here in Moore County. With no Republicans running in the primary, Jones must have thought he had it made.
He was wrong. Shortly after the primary election, two challengers emerged as unaffiliated candidates, one a fellow Democrat, the other a former sheriff of Scotland County and a former Democrat turned Republican. Both unaffiliated challengers are likewise experienced law-enforcement officers. Both are also white.
Scotland County has its share of racist voters, and some folks were predicting that white voters would outvote blacks at the polls and elect one of the two unaffiliated candidates.
It didn't work that way. Apparently the Republicans joined the racists in splitting their votes, and Jones came out the winner, a second time.
To their credit, both unaffiliated candidates announced that they were not personally racist and that race did not enter into their decisions. They just wanted to be sheriff.
Supporters of Gerald Galloway, one of the two unaffiliated candidates here in Moore County, blame his loss on an assumed support base in the Democratic Party.
Although Galloway is a former Democrat, he is registered as an Independent, unlike the other unaffiliated candidate, Bud Shaver, who remains a registered Republican.
Some folks were saying on election night that many Democrats voting the straight party ticket forgot that Galloway is no longer a Democrat and failed to mark his name on the ballot.
They may be correct, but the real reason the party candidates, whether Democrat or Republican across the state, were winners this time had more to do with an uncertain feeling about unaffiliated candidates. Despite weakening of both parties in recent years and despite a growing trend toward registering as unaffiliated, rank-and-file voters still rely on that party affiliation to assure them of a tried and true discipline, even if they disagree with aspects of a party's position on issues.
State law makes it possible for unaffiliated candidates to file if they can secure sufficient signatures on petitions. It's our right, but that doesn't mean it works.
It's way too early to ignore the power of the Republican or Democratic parties.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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