SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Volatility in the Political Market
For several months, the inside-the-Beltline crowd has been cogitating over how much of an effect House Speaker Jim Black's legal woes will have on upcoming legislative elections.
Like a speculator who jumped into the crude oil market a month ago, some of those hunches might not be playing out too well. In fact, if money was on the line, some of us might be on the street begging right now, tin cup in hand.
It seems many political observers had been suffering from that occasional malady known as Beltline myopia, asking the wrong question.
The wrong question: Will voters connect incumbent legislative Democrats to Black and the unfolding corruption scandal in Raleigh?
The right question: Do most voters outside Raleigh and Charlotte even know who Jim Black is?
Consider the fund-raising e-mail recently sent by Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican: "Today I got some bad news. We just got polling data back in one of our crucial districts. Only 30 percent of the people in the district knew about Democrat Speaker Jim Black and the scandals swirling around the corrupt Democrat Leadership."
Whatever the "crucial" Senate district, the numbers may not be much different in other parts of the state.
Another private poll taken earlier this month, which was commissioned by a prominent lobbyist, found that a majority of likely voters around the state either didn't know or didn't care about Black's alleged improprieties.
Asked their opinion of Black, 64 percent of the 600 voters said they either had no opinion of him or didn't know him. Just 25.2 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Another question found that 67 percent of the respondents viewed North Carolina Democratic and Republican leaders as equally corrupt. The percentage that viewed Democrats as more corrupt than Republicans were virtually identical to the percentage that viewed as Republicans more corrupt than Democrats.
Of course, legislative Republicans will be trying to change the numbers in the next few weeks.
The crux of Berger's letter was a plea to Republicans to donate so that GOP senators would have the necessary money to air ads and send out mailers detailing the particulars of the scandal.
But let's face it: "Educating" voters before you persuade them is a lot more difficult and more expensive than just slapping up a picture that already carries negative baggage.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr didn't have to worry about any such nonsense when his campaign machine-gunned the airwaves in 2004 with pictures of opponent Erskine Bowles in deep conversation with Bill Clinton.
Whether GOP legislative candidates have a little money or a lot, some will certainly feature Black's image in campaign mailers. Their effects may be minimal, but tarring the opposition with scandal is a long, hallowed political tradition.
And even if the market is down today, perhaps it will heat up tomorrow.
Oil futures and political futures are volatile commodities.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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