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The Democratic Caucuses - What's the Headline

By D. G. Martin
Posted Sunday, April 18, 2004

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“Kucinich wins big in North Carolina.”

I was trying to write a headline for a story about last Saturday’s Democratic Party presidential caucuses.

The turnout for the caucuses was lousy--less than one percent of registered North Carolina Democrats participated.

At first, Dennis Kucinich seemed to be the big story. For someone who had not been seen in North Carolina until a few weeks ago, he made a pretty nice showing in several counties. He won a crushing victory in Buncombe County (Asheville) with 40.8% of the vote, with John Edwards following with 32.2% and John Kerry with 16.3%.

Kucinich also won Orange County with 32.4% of the vote and Watauga with 50.2%.

When I looked at the statewide total, however, I could not give Kucinich the headline. He got only 12.2% of the total caucus votes. More than half of his total of statewide votes came in the three counties that he won.

Why did he do so well in these three counties? There are two obvious reasons. First, these communities have strong groups of liberal political activists with passionate anti-Iraq-war feelings. Voting for Kucinich, the most consistent anti-war candidate, was a simple way--maybe the only way--for them to vote their conscience.

Secondly, the turnout for the caucuses was lousy--less than one percent of registered North Carolina Democrats participated. So, any group that mobilized even a few voters could register a high percentage for their candidate in their county. For example, Kucinich’s 50.2% victory in Watauga represented only 156 votes. In Buncombe County, according to reports, Kucinich supporters led participants in a Saturday morning peace rally directly to the caucus site.

Or, take coastal Hyde County, which John Kerry won with 66.6% of the vote. He got four votes. The two other votes cast went for “uncommitted.” No other candidate got a single vote.

If Kucinich had only stopped by Swan Quarter or Ocracoke last week and made just five friends, he could have added another county to his victory column.

Maybe Al Sharpton should have commanded the headline. Although he did poorly statewide with only 3.3%, he had a big victory in Granville County, north of Durham, with 61.7% of the votes. Sharpton got almost 30% of all his North Carolina votes in this small county.

There is a story here, I am sure. Maybe Sharpton has a cousin in Oxford. Or maybe one of Granville County’s political leaders was trying to win a place at the Democratic National Convention as a “Sharpton delegate” and got a group of political friends to help. Maybe, but there is probably an even more interesting story around Sharpton’s Granville County victory.

If the statewide caucus story is to rate a headline at all, it has to go to John Edwards. Even though John Kerry has sewed up the Democratic nomination, more than 50% of those who voted in the Democratic caucuses sent a signal of continuing support--or at least good wishes and thanks--to their state’s presidential candidate.

He is no longer an official candidate. But, as a result of the caucuses, he can always say that he was the only serious North Carolina presidential candidate ever to win his home state’s presidential primary or caucus.

For record, of approximately 2,400,000 registered Democrats in North Carolina, only about 17,800 participated in last Saturday’s caucuses. John Edwards was the winner with 9093 votes, or 51.1%. John Kerry was second with 4844 votes or 27.2%. Dennis Kucinich was third with 2176 votes or 12.2%. Howard Dean had 1009 votes or 6.7%. Al Sharpton had 582 votes or 3.3%.

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which will return to the air later this year.

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