SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Strange Tar Heel Politics
The fall election is still seven weeks away.
Polls will change a lot between now and then.
Developments never imagined will take place in any number of races, whether they involve political unknowns from Alaska or figures from the political establishment in Raleigh and Washington.
Still, poll numbers seen in North Carolina these days look awfully strange by historical standards.
A Democratic presidential candidate going toe-to-toe with a Republican is unusual enough. How about an incumbent Republican U.S. senator who, after an initial election in which she enjoyed Obama-like celebrity status and beat out one of the most qualified Democrats ever to seek a U.S. Senate seat, appears to be trailing a Democrat with little name identification outside Greensboro?
Looking at those races, you might assume that it will be a big year for Democrats in North Carolina, even if Democrats Barack Obama and Kay Hagan aren't able to quite overcome past history.
But then, what do you make of Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue's slim advantage in the polls over Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory? With Democratic candidates for federal office doing this well in a state where they often don't, logic suggests that Democrats for statewide office should cruise to victory.
The optimistic, non-cynical answer to these disparate races is that voters vote for candidates, not parties, and carefully weigh the characteristics of each.
Sorry, but it's still early September, and even a political Pollyanna would have a hard time buying that's really what's going on.
Voters may be fairly informed about the presidential candidates at this point. Obama and John McCain have dominated newspaper front pages and evening airwaves, so it wouldn't be surprising if most voters have staked out their choices. Their numbers may not change much between now and November.
As for the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Elizabeth Dole and Hagan, it's pretty easy to see that ads run by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee linking Dole to an unpopular president have been effective. Now we'll see whether the attack ads against Hagan, a five-term state senator, have the same effect or whether she can define and defend herself in a winning way.
McCrory's ability to hang with Perdue, even in a Democratic year, is probably the result of being a known, well-liked commodity in two of the state's largest media markets, Charlotte and Greensboro.
But McCrory's campaign manager, Richard Hudson, was pushing another theory last week -- that voters are tired of business-as-usual politics regardless of party. He didn't exactly say it this way, but Republicans clearly represent the status quo in Washington, and Democrats in the same in Raleigh. Perdue heads that Raleigh Democrat-ic establishment ticket, even if she isn't part of Gov. Mike Easley's administration.
Hudson's theory, political spin or not, would make a compelling story this fall.
Two months from now, it could also prove to be a fanciful tale.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh@ ncinsider.com.
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