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North Carolina: Pickup of a Senate seat?

By Robert S. Sargent Jr.
web posted August 18, 2003

Sen. John Edwards
Edwards

A story in the Raleigh News Observer last Thursday (8/14) said, "Marc Basnight, president pro tem of the (North Carolina) state Senate, said (Senator John) Edwards' indecision about seeking re-election in 2004 is 'hurting other candidates' who might run if Edwards does not. 'I think he should turn them loose,' said Basnight, one of the most powerful Democrats in the state. 'I think you have to choose, and it's a late time to be choosing.'" And a story in the Asheville Citizen-Times on 8/10 described the growing frustration among NC Democrats: "The greatest fear among North Carolina Democrats is that Edwards will proceed with his presidential bid and eventually drop out of the Senate race, but take so long to decide that he leaves potential Democratic Senate candidates at a disadvantage. The Edwards campaign said he has no timetable for making a decision. 'I think the longer this situation remains in doubt, the weaker our candidate will be,' said state Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Democrat from Fayetteville."

North Carolina Democrats are in trouble. Not only the actions of Senator Edwards are frustrating them, but also polls are showing that Edwards' popularity among NC voters is slipping. In the non-partisan Southern Political Report, editor Hastings Wyman wrote: "US Senator John Edwards is running behind in the home-state polls in his presidential bid. Moreover, he's not in great shape if he chooses to drop back and seek re-election to the senate. A Research 2000 North Carolina Poll taken July 13-16 shows…in a Senate contest between Edwards and US Rep. Richard Burr (R), Edwards leads by 47 per cent to 39 per cent, a poor showing for an incumbent this early in the election cycle. Moreover, Edwards' Senate margin is decreasing – in mid-May, he led Burr 47 per cent to 36 per cent."

I talked to Jonathan Jordan, the Communications Director of the North Carolina Republican Party, who agreed to speak on record. Here are some highlights:

Q. What are the chances of a GOP takeover of Edwards' Senate seat in '04?
R. I think they are very strong. Whether or not Edwards is the candidate.
Q. Does the GOP think it would be better if he were the candidate or not?
R. Either way has its advantages for us and disadvantages for the Democrats.
Q. I've read several articles recently that the Democrats are getting a bit miffed that Edwards won't commit himself to either the Presidency or the Senate.
R. Either way it goes, we can take advantage of it. If he runs for Senate, the longer he's in the Presidential race, the longer we can continue pointing out that he's ignoring the citizens of North Carolina. If he doesn't run for Senate, then whoever does try to take his place has a very short time to try to build up an organization.
Q. The longer he doesn't commit, the better for the GOP.
R. Right. I think most people would agree with that. Also, I think a very interesting part of this whole thing is that in the last two weeks he has scheduled half a dozen town-hall meetings across the state and they are meetings he has not attended. They are headed up by his campaign chairman. We've gotten a lot of media notice on this.

An example: In the 8/14 News Observer, a story on Edwards said, "Republicans have worked to exploit the awkwardness of Edwards' indecision and seized Wednesday on a 'town hall' meeting held in Raleigh by his campaign. With Edwards in Iowa, the event was hosted by Ed Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer and general chairman of the campaign. 'To hold a campaign town hall meeting without the candidate is very nearly pointless,' said Marilyn Avila, chairwoman for the Wake County GOP. 'In fact, to add insult to injury, this is a slap in the face to folks in Raleigh on top of Edwards' campaign of ignoring the interests of the citizens he is supposed to represent.'"

(I emailed Marc Siegel, the NC Democratic Communications Director, and wrote him what the GOP Communications Director said. I asked him if he'd like to reply. Perhaps his non-reply indicates he has no good response.)

With U.S. Senate Democrats using the filibuster for minority control of judicial appointments, the goal for Republicans is no longer a Senate majority. It's a filibuster-proof majority. With Edwards' poll numbers getting worse, and his actions frustrating Democrats and providing fuel for NC Republicans, North Carolina should provide a gain in this quest.

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.

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