SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Democratic Wave Roars Ashore
The Democratic wave did indeed come in. The blue tint down North Carolina's ballot rose to the top of it.
Election night proved to be everything Democrats had hoped. Kay Hagan beat incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole to put a Democrat back in the U.S. Senate; Beverly Perdue survived a tight race with Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory to keep a Democrat in the governor's mansion; and Barack Obama appeared to be the first Democrat to take North Carolina's electoral votes for president since Jimmy Carter.
Against this deluge, Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry were the only significant Republican officeholders left standing.
The Obama movement, fed by loathing of an incumbent president, changed the state's political landscape. For better or worse, North Carolina is now a presidential battleground state, and shifting demographics should keep it that way.
In short, the election was the most significant in North Carolina since 1994, when Republicans rode Newt Gingrich's Contract with America to new positions of power.
Here, then, are a few observations to try to make sense of it all:
-- Obama's ground operation in North Carolina, with its thousands of volunteers, had state politicians and political operatives alike shaking their heads. They had never seen anything like it. It'd be interesting to know how many registered Democrats in the state had contact, either by phone or in person, with a real, live Obama campaign worker. The operation's ability to push supporters to early-voting sites, driving early voting participation to 60 percent of those who voted, may have made the difference on a windy, rainy Election Day.
-- The campaign consultant who decided that running that ad implying that Hagan was "godless" must be from Mars, and ought to be unemployed come 2010. A quicker way to defeat may have been an ad endorsing Hagan. The backlash from the ad turned a close race into a comfortable Hagan victory. Of course, Dole ultimately approved the ad and sullied her reputation in the process. Move over, Helms' "white hands" ad. You've just been surpassed in the annals of all-time nasty television spots.
-- Perdue may well owe her win to Obama. And just think about that statement. Typically Democratic gubernatorial candidates in North Carolina keep Democratic presidential candidates at arms' length. How about a white Democratic governor owing her political life to a black Democratic presidential candidate? Up until mid-October, Perdue's campaign seemed unfocused. To be fair to Perdue, she faced the most impressive Republican gubernatorial candidate that this state has ever known, including the two to win the race in modern times, Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin. McCrory chose the wrong year to run.
-- It appears legislative Democrats won't expand their majorities in the House and Senate. Senate Democrats will probably lose a seat, seeing their majority drop to 30-20. The only conclusion: In a politically divided state, Democrats are pretty much at their limits when it comes to holding legislative districts.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh@ ncinsider.com
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