SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Mean Primary Races Benefit Other Side
Tough, nasty gubernatorial primaries are nothing new to North Carolina.
In 1972, Skipper Bowles beat out Lt. Gov. Pat Taylor in the Democratic primary, only to become the first Democrat in that century to lose a governor's race to a Republican, Jim Holshouser. Some prominent Democrats, including former Gov. Terry Sanford, believed that Bowles lost, in part, because he had bucked party protocol. In their view, it was Taylor's "turn."
In 1984, a heated 10-person Democratic race resulted in a two-man second primary between state Attorney General Rufus Edmisten and former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox. Knox, angered that his longstanding friendship with Gov. Jim Hunt hadn't led to more widespread support from party regulars, refused to endorse Edmisten after losing the runoff.
The result: A Republican congressman little known outside his Charlotte-area district, Jim Martin, beat Edmisten and went on to serve two terms.
Do you sense a trend here?
Mean primary races can turn to an opponent's advantage.
Still 14 months away, the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial primary looks as if it could become particularly nasty.
The two potential combatants -- Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore -- have already begun to take a few shots at each other.
After Forbes magazine published an article detailing Moore's campaign fund raising prowess among investment managers to whom he gives state business, the Perdue campaign sent out e-mails to potential supporters making sure they hadn't missed the treasurer's bad press.
Moore's chief campaign consultant, Jay Reiff, quickly distributed emails calling attention to some of Perdue's own missteps in the 1990s, including newspaper stories alleging that road paving projects had been tied to contributions to the Perdue campaign.
But both candidates have only scratched the surface of potential dirt to throw at each other.
Moore's oversight of $70 billion in state pension funds, and his willingness to benefit politically from those duties, is obvious fertile ground. Perdue's long history as a legislator, with piles of votes on all kinds of policy issues, and her own campaign finance past, should keep those ops-research consultants (dirt diggers) fat and happy.
So does the potential mud-fest portend a Republican gubernatorial win in 2008?
Maybe. Maybe not.
While Holshouser and Martin benefited from Democratic division in 1972 and 1984, a far bigger factor was the coattail effect of two popular GOP presidents seeking second terms, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Holshouser and Martin were both affable fellows to whom the public attached few negative feelings. Both were able to convince voters that they were competent and, in a state that then had an even greater plurality of Democrats, non-threatening.
Republicans may not have to jump as high in 2008, but the obstacles look remarkably similar.
It remains to be seen whether anyone in the likely field -- former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, state Sen. Fred Smith and Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham -- can overcome them.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh@ ncinsider.com?
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