Implications of Erskine Bowles’ Decision NOT to Run for Governor; NC Democrats Continue Steep Decline as GOP Ascends to Dominance

by johndavis, February 4, 2012

Implications of Erskine Bowles’ Decision NOT to Run for Governor; NC Democrats Continue Steep Decline as GOP Ascends to Dominance Post: February 2, 2012       Vol. V, No. 6    UPDATED  FEBRUARY 3, 2012 “So right now, McCrory retains the edge, even against the strongest Democrat.  But Bowles would have the potential to bring in
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Implications of Erskine Bowles’ Decision NOT to Run for Governor; NC Democrats Continue Steep Decline as GOP Ascends to Dominance

Post: February 2, 2012       Vol. V, No. 6    UPDATED  FEBRUARY 3, 2012

“So right now, McCrory retains the edge, even against the strongest Democrat.  But Bowles would have the potential to bring in a lot of money from across the country to quickly make this a race.” Public Policy Polling, January 30, 2012, More on the NC governor’s race

Bowles Was the Biggest Threat to McCrory; Lt. Gov. Dalton Trails by 15 Points

I can hear the champagne corks popping all over the state as backers of former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory’s campaign for the GOP nomination for governor celebrate today’s decision by Erskine Bowles not to seek the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination.  According to polling conducted last weekend by Public Policy Polling, Bowles was the only serious Democratic candidate who polled within 10 points of McCrory, trailing McCrory only 44-42.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton of Rutherford County, state Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County and former Congressman Bob Etheridge of Harnett County have announced their intentions to run for governor in the Democratic primary.  The Public Policy Poll shows Dalton and Etheridge trailing McCrory by 15 points (50-35); Faison by 19 points (50-31).  Former state Treasurer Richard Moore, still considering the race, trails McCrory by 11 points (47-36).

McCrory, the presumptive Republican Party nominee in the race for governor, made his formal announcement in Greensboro Tuesday, January 31, 2012, vowing to put an end to the Democrats’ “scandal-ridden good old boy (and girl) network and fix the state’s broken economy.”

Erskine Bowles was more than a serious threat to McCrory’s quest to be governor, his candidacy would have reinvigorated the North Carolina Democratic Party by attracting much needed national money and talent.  Now, the steep political decline continues for Democrats as NC Republicans ascend to dominance.

Bowles Would Have Reinvigorated a Democratic Party in Disarray

The North Carolina Democrats have been in political disarray since losing the state Senate and House to Republicans in 2010 … a first in 140 years.

Compounding the loss of political dominance by Democrats is the fact that Gov. Perdue has proven to be a weak governor and a drag on their candidates.  Further, Perdue has been tripped up time and again by allegations of campaign improprieties and the investigations and indictments of key staff and supporters.

“Bev Perdue’s retirement has clearly helped Democratic chances of holding the Governor’s office this fall,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling.

There is no greater evidence of how the political fortunes of North Carolina Democrats have diminished than the campaign finance report filed this week by Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Senate Minority Leader, the most powerful Democrat in the Senate.  Nesbitt’s January 2012 report filed with the NC State Board of Elections shows that he raised only $52,264 as of year-end 2011.  At the same time two years ago, January 2010, then Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight reported raising $1,519,768.

Mid-year 2011 campaign finance reports showed Republicans in the NC Senate with a 10-to-1 fundraising advantage over the loyal opposition party, a historic first, with NC House Republicans raising four times the money of their Democratic counterparts.

Republicans have Power, Money and Friendly Districts

Power has always meant money; money means you have the resources to hold on to your base of candidates, win most of the close races in “swing” districts, and even raid the opposition’s base and pick off a few of their seats.  Republicans have the power, the money … and the districts.

Last November, the United States Justice Department preapproved the Republican-drawn legislative and congressional district maps, virtually assuring Republicans a majority of the seats in both houses of the General Assembly throughout the decade.  Two weeks ago, a 3-judge panel ruled against several plaintiffs, including the NAACP, who were trying to delay the May 8 primary elections based on allegation that the maps would re-segregate the state and diminish the influence of black voters.

These two rulings add to the list of legislative and judicial redistricting wins for the North Carolina GOP and suggest that the maps will withstand any future litigation.

Further evidence of a downward spiral for North Carolina Democrats came today as the leading Democrat in the NC House, Minority Leader Joe Hackney, announce that he would not seek reelection.   Hackney, who served as Speaker of the House two terms, brings the total number of Democrats not seeking reelection in the NC House to 9, with more to come due to incumbent Democrats double-bunked into the same district.

McCrory has High Favorability Ratings & $2 Million in the Bank

According to polling conducted last weekend by Public Policy Polling, not only was the hypothetical race between Bowles and McCrory a virtual tie, 46% of North Carolina voters said that they are “generally leaning toward voting for a Democrat in the race for governor, with 45% saying they will vote Republican in the governor’s race.”

However, with Bowles out and no other Democrat within striking distance of McCrory, the presumptive GOP nominee’s political fortunes will soar … especially his fundraising.

Favorable findings for McCrory in the Public Policy Polling survey last weekend include:

  • McCrory has high name recognition (76%) at the starting gate, with many more voters having a favorable opinion (45%); only 31% an unfavorable opinion
  • In a state where 24% of all registered voters are Unaffiliated, Independent voters see McCrory positively by a 55%/25% spread

The year-end 2011 report filed with the NC State Board of Elections shows that McCrory raised $2.6 million from 6,120 contributors last year, and has a little over $2 million cash on hand.

Bowles would have had no problem playing catch-up with fundraising.  In both his 2002 and 2004 losing races for U.S. Senate seats won by Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, he spent $12.7 million and $13.4 million respectively, with $6.8 million coming out of his own pocket in 2002.

Now, Democrats will struggle all year to raise a competitive war chest in the Governor’s race.  They simply do not have a superstar like Bowles to re-energize their financial base.

Without a SuperSTAR like Bowles, the Best Hope for Democrats is a SuperPAC

There was a news story last week about SAS co-founder and CEO Jim Goodnight hosting a fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.  Goodnight is generally recognized as the wealthiest man in the State of North Carolina and one of the wealthiest in the world.

Goodnight has a passion for education, especially elementary and secondary.  The Public Policy Poll from last weekend notes a potential liability for McCrory, “his close ties to the unpopular Republican legislature and the cuts they’ve made to education.”

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago in the Citizen’s United case declared that wealthy individuals like Goodnight and corporations like SAS can spend an unlimited amount of money influencing the outcome of political races … provided they spend it independently and not in collusion with the campaigns they are attempting to help.

With the steep decline in the prowess of the North Carolina Democratic Party, and the rapid ascendancy of the Republican Party as the dominant political party, there are only two recovery options for the Democrats:  an exceptionally inspirational leader with fundraising muscle or a massive infusion of independent working political capital.

I do not see the exceptionally inspirational leader with fundraising muscle on the list of statewide Democratic candidates.  Disagree?  Well, who would you say is the Jim Hunt of 2012?  That leaves recovery option #2: a massive infusion of independent working political capital.

That’s where the Jim Goodnights of the state meet with the Citizen’s United decision; unlimited funding for everything the party lacks resources to do better than the Republicans … from voter registration and early voting turnout to unlimited millions in advertising dollars targeting every vulnerable Republican in the state.

You can already count on outside money pouring into the state with the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and the fact that President Obama likes North Carolina.  And, you can count on outside union money pouring in from the coffers of the NEA (teachers), AFSCME (government employees) and SEIU (service employees).  But all of that money will pale in significance to the money now allowed under the Citizens United decision.

In the absence of a superstar like Erskine Bowles, the best hope for North Carolina Democrats is a SuperPAC.  The traditional 10-to-1 advantage in total legislative campaign funds raised by the majority party is now chump change compared to the potential for a tsunami of outside SuperPAC funding.

There is a new political paradigm in North Carolina politics: the SuperPAC.  If the GOP is to continue its ascendancy to political dominance, they must also embrace this new political reality in campaign funding.

Candidate filing begins on February 15, and ends on February 29.  The primary is May 8.

Transcript of statement by Erskine Bowles released to AP this morning:

“I will not be a candidate for Governor.  I've spent a lot of time trying to think what is the right thing for me to do.  I don't think anyone questions my love for North Carolina or my efforts to make our State a better place to live, work , or raise a family . I've done my best in this regard and I plan to continue to do so . There are lots of ways to make a difference , lots of ways to add to the community woodpile . I'm excited about helping our State's and Nation's leaders move North Carolina and our Country forward .  We've got big challenges and great opportunities.  I'm confident if we can get folks to put politics aside , and pull together , not apart , there are no problems we can't solve working together.  Erskine Bowles”

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