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It's not over until November

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, May 31, 2004

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Here is a rule that politicians and political pundits never seem to remember.

November elections are not settled in the spring before the election.

This is a rule North Carolina Democrats ought to take to heart. Otherwise they are going to be fooled into thinking they already have the governor's race all sewed up. Like you and me, they are reading and hearing about all the troubles the Republicans have--and are going to have--in mounting a challenge to incumbent Democratic Governor Mike Easley.

Easley has no primary opposition and is able to focus his time and energy on raising money and organizing for the November campaign. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates are spending every penny they can raise and every ounce of energy they can muster to defeat each other. As hard as they work, few people seem to be paying attention. When the polls measure name recognition, none of them register high numbers except two-time former candidate Richard Vinroot. All are far behind Easley in when the polls measure "head-to-head" competition.

When the July primary and possible August runoff elections are done, the eventual Republican nominee will be tired and broke. Too tired and broke, the pundits are now saying, to be able to mount a competitive campaign against Easley.

It sounds like a done deal, doesn't it?

Here is what could turn the Democrats' dream into a nightmare.

Unless, of course, you remember the rule about November elections not being settled in the spring.

Here is what could turn the Democrats' dream into a nightmare.

After the July 20 primary, the two top Republican finishers compete for the nomination in the August 17 runoff. During the runoff campaign these two have a virtual monopoly on state political news coverage. As they travel around the state, they get more and more attention-and traction. The finalists will probably come from attractive candidates like Vinroot, former state senate minority leader Patrick Ballantine, former Congressman Bill Cobey, and long time party activitist George Little. When the spotlight is shining on just two of them, the reflection is going to be a lot brighter.

And when one of them wins the August 17 runoff, there will be a flurry of favorable front-page news. His name recognition will soar. The polling will show that he is gaining on Governor Easley.

He will have a chance to convert this momentum into a powerful fundraising tool. If the he can convince Republican-leaning political donors that he could be a winner in November, the money that is so hard to raise now will come pouring in. That money will buy the television time to compete with the ads that Governor Easley will certainly be running.

If the Republican candidate gains this kind of momentum in the weeks after the runoff, he may find he has a surprising advantage over the governor. He will have shaken more hands and been in more places than Easley. The Republican candidate's long days of grueling campaigning from one event to another all across the state will begin to pay off. People who met the candidate, looked him in the eye, and liked what they saw will tell their friends.

The experts say that personal campaigning doesn't count for much anymore compared to television. But, if I have met a candidate, or if he talked to one of my clubs or organizations, or if he took the trouble to visit my small town and I liked what I saw and heard, then, all things being equal, he gets my vote.

If all these things come together in August and September, the Democrats and Governor Easley are going to have a nightmare of a battle on their hands in October and early November.

The best advice I can give them is to put their campaign in high gear now and get their candidate on the road.

******************************

D.G. Martin is the author of "Interstate Eateries" a handbook of home cooking places near North Carolina's interstate highways-available through "Our State" magazine (800-948-1409).

 
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