Burr, Marshall Both Claim Outsider Status
This campaign season, creatures of Washington say they aren't and those that aren't say they are.
So it has gone in the race between Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and his Democratic challenger, Elaine Marshall. Libertarian Mike Beitler has been happy to play the role of outsider.
Marshall, 64, has never held office in Washington. She has been North Carolina's secretary of state - responsible for lobbying regulation, and business and nonprofit organizational oversight - since 1997. She previously served two terms in the state Senate.
Marshall's party affiliation has been enough for Burr and his campaign to paint her as part of the problems plaguing Washington.
In ads and during three debates, Burr, 54, has tried to tap into voter discontent over government spending, portraying Marshall as another Democrat who will exacerbate out-of-control deficit spending.
Burr has been a bit vague when it comes to where he'd like to see spending cut. Instead, he's talked about the federal stimulus legislation, which he voted against, as a failure.
Specificity can get a politician in trouble.
The Marshall camp has been trying to pin Burr down on Social Security. Burr supported George W. Bush's partial-privatization plan back in 2005, and a campaign spokeswoman indicated back in the summer that he still favored the concept.
After Labor Day, Burr reversed course. He says he supports only tweaks to the program, but looks forward to the recommendations of a bipartisan commission looking at ways to bring down spending.
Marshall says Burr is all over the place on Social Security. Burr's supporters say she's engaging in fear mongering, and that Marshall herself has backed away from comments indicating that raising the retirement age may need to be considered to keep the program solvent.
The candidates also have sparred over cap-and-trade energy legislation (Burr's campaign says Marshall supports it; Marshall says she won't vote for legislation that would hurt small business) and the federal bank bailout (Marshall points to Burr's vote for it; Burr notes a second vote to block release of half the money).
Meanwhile, Beitler, a UNC Greensboro economics professor, has been urging voters not to choose between two political parties that he says are really no different.
But as the Republican and the Democrat try to depict each other as examples of what's wrong with government, both are in fact pretty down-to-earth as politicians go.
Burr, a former lawn equipment and heating systems salesman, served a decade in the U.S. House before being elected to his first term in the U.S. Senate. He still drives himself around and avoids the entourages that accompany most U.S. senators.
Marshall has been a fixture of the North Carolina political scene for more than two decades. But she's never met a stranger. As I wrote nearly a decade ago, her diverse campaign rallies look like North Carolina.
Still, Burr and Marshall are seasoned, successful politicians.
They didn't get to where they are without learning the art of political compromise and without staying fairly true to their respective party ideologies.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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