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Primary lessons learned

By D. G. Martin
Posted Sunday, July 25, 2004

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After each election, those of us who consider ourselves "insiders" try to figure out what there is to be learned from the way things turned out.

Here are a few possible lessons learned:

Obviously, July is not the best time to persuade North Carolinians to go to the polls.

Obviously, July is not the best time to persuade North Carolinians to go to the polls. Precincts that posted a 20 percent or better turnout were designated "high-turnout." Detailed analysis will probably show that voters showed up in higher numbers where local hotly contested races brought out a more enthusiastic electorate. Still, we ought to commit to a stronger effort to keep the primaries from being postponed every time there is a challenge to the legislature's districting plans.

Maybe it is time to form a non-partisan and independent group to present the public's case for maintaining a regular and convenient schedule for ordinary citizens to vote whenever a court or the state board of elections was considering a delay of a scheduled election.

What do you think? Let me know if you would support this kind of effort.

But the public's poor voting performance is not just a matter of the inconvenience of a mid-summer election date. Notwithstanding the efforts of the candidates, many potential voters found no compelling personal reason to select one candidate over another.

We can criticize them for failing to be a good citizen, for not taking to time to study the candidates and the issues, and for not taking a few minutes to go to the polls. But maybe we should also concentrate on what each of us can do to increase informed public participation in the election process.

For instance, I could have done more in this column to share what I knew about the candidates-not to try to tell my readers how to vote, but to give information that might be useful to them in making decisions and persuading them that voting would be worth the effort.

Most of our state's newspapers declined to make endorsements in the primary election. They have their reasons. The endorsement process is a time consuming effort that often offends the supporter of the non-endorsed candidates. And, they say, their job is to give information to the voters, not tell them how to vote.

But the considered wisdom of community minded editors is an incredibly valuable resource for the rest of us, even if we disagree with their conclusions. If the editors of our newspapers do not do their traditional job of evaluating the qualifications the candidates and sharing their conclusions with their readers, how can they criticize the non-voting electorate for a similar shirking of responsibility?

On the other hand, some "insiders" are questioning the value of personal endorsements. Two attractive and well-qualified Democratic candidates for statewide office gained endorsements from important political leaders including former Governor Jim Hunt, who has been the closest thing this state has to a "power broker." But Tom Gilmore, a candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture, and J. B. Buxton, a candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, fell short in their efforts-notwithstanding Hunt's support.

Their losses raise a couple of questions. First, has the value of Hunt's endorsement and that of other political leaders declined? And, is any such endorsement useful, unless the person giving the endorsement puts his or her shoulder to the wheel and calls out the organization?

On the political side, Patrick Ballantine taught us again a lesson that John Edwards taught the country earlier this year in the Iowa caucuses. A young vigorous candidate can, in the last days before an election, come from behind and "ambush" the media-designated favorites based on early poll results. Sometimes, the voting public makes up (and changes) its mind late in the game showing us that a strong horse that gains momentum in the final stretch can pass the "Smarty Joneses" of the political world.

Governor Mike Easley's campaign staff ought to take this lesson to heart as it plans its efforts for the November general election.


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). He is the host of
UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. This week's (August 1) guest is Jim Early, author of The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: From Manteo to Murphy.

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