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When was the last time a real North Carolinian was on a national ticket?

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, August 9, 2004

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My local Rotary Club has asked me to give a program that "sizes up" the fall elections for them.

Win or lose, John Edwards is a North Carolina historical "first."

I thought I would share with you some of what I am going to tell them.

First of all, there will have to be a confession. I do not have any better idea than they do about who is going to win the presidency. Nor do I know for sure how the important statewide races in North Carolina will turn out.

Getting that matter out of the way early will allow me to turn the tables and ask my audience a few questions.

My first question has a purpose. It will open the door for a discussion about why there is not widespread excitement throughout the state about having a North Carolinian on the national Democratic ticket.

My opening question will be: When was the last time our state's voters could vote for another North Carolinian running on a major national party ticket?

The best answer I will get will probably be, "I don't remember." (You will see why this is the correct answer in a minute.)

Somebody will certainly mention Andrew Johnson, who was elected vice president as Abraham Lincoln's running mate in 1864. Johnson was born in Raleigh. But, when he ran for vice president, his native state was a part of the Confederate States of America. Thus, North Carolinians could not vote for Johnson.

Of course, some people will remember James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson. Polk was born in Mecklenburg County and attended the University of North Carolina. But he was a Tennessean for most of his life. Andrew Jackson was born near the South Carolina-North Carolina line and spent some of his young life in our state. But he was a Tennessean when he ran for president.

Another North Carolina native, William King, was elected vice president in 1852. He was, however, living in Alabama at the time.

Going back into history to 1836, a "real" North Carolinian, Senator Willie Mangum, was on the Whig party ticket in North Carolina as the presidential nominee-but only in North Carolina, not in the rest of the country.

So, as best I can tell, 2004 is the first time ever that a North Carolina resident has appeared on a true major national party ticket. Win or lose, John Edwards is a North Carolina historical "first."

What difference will John Edwards make in the North Carolina election results this year? The conventional wisdom is that he will give "a little bit of help" to other Democratic candidates. That "little bit" could make a big difference-especially to a campaign like Erskine Bowles, whose contest against Richard Burr will probably be decided by a very small margin.

Bowles has maintained a 10 percentage point lead over Burr in polls taken over the past few months. Both campaigns expect that gap to close once prospective voters begin to pay attention to the party differences that divide the candidates.

Why is Bowles's lead so certain to get slimmer?

Bowles has to fight against a tide that runs against North Carolina Democrats running for the Senate in presidential election years. Ever since Jesse Helms won in the 1972 Nixon landslide, no Democrat has won a senate election in a presidential year. Democratic Senators Morgan, Sanford, and Edwards won their seats in "off-years." Morgan and Sanford lost their seats when they stood for re-election in presidential years.

Some insiders say that Bowles, because of his business ties and longer record of public service, has a better chance of winning the senate seat than Edwards, if he had run for re-election.

How then can Edwards help Bowles win?

Edwards' presence on the ticket and his populist message can mobilize the Democratic base better than Bowles and his "moderate-centrist" message can. More than any candidate on the scene today, Edwards knows how to connect to prospective voters in ways that are meaningful to them.

All this leads to the number one question the Rotarians and I will be asking each other. Can John Edwards and John Kerry win North Carolina?

Most insiders say that it is not likely. Some North Carolinians who may vote for Mike Easley and Erskine Bowles just are not going to vote for a "liberal" northeasterner for president no matter what.

At least, this is what the insiders believe.

As for me, I am going to wait before I answer, remembering how often John Edwards has confounded those who have underestimated his ability to win the support of voters.

The Rotarians and I will also be talking about other statewide races, including governor and other council of state races and the newly "non-partisan" appellate court elections. Sometime soon, I will write another column about these contests - unless the Rotarians convince me that my ideas are not worth sharing.

DG gets a history lesson

In this week's column on the upcoming elections, I asserted that John Edwards was the first North Carolina resident to appear on the ballot as the presidential or vice presidential nominee of a major national party. The morning the column was published in Chapel Hill, I got a call from John Sanders, former Director of the Institute of Government, pointing out that William Graham, who lived in Hillsborough and is buried there, was the unsuccessful running mate of Winfield Scott on the Whig Party ticket in 1852.

My error sent me back to the history books where I found another North Carolina vice presidential nominee. Nathaniel Macon, who lived and is buried in Warren County, was the running mate of William Harris Crawford in 1824. The Crawford-Macon ticket carried Georgia and Virginia and came in third in
electoral votes behind John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Crawford and Macon prevented either Adams or Jackson from winning a clear victory in the Electoral College, forcing the decision to the House of Representatives, which elected Adams president.

John Edwards, then, is not the only North Carolina resident to appear on a major national party ticket-just the first one in more than 150 years.

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

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 or www.ourstate.com). He is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. This
week's (August 8) guest is Lynn York, author of The Piano Teacher.

 
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