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The 2006 elections - Watch out for the differences

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, December 5, 2005

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What will be different about next year’s elections in North Carolina—as compared with 2002 and 2004?

Let me count the ways.

1. U.S. Senate: Here is a hint about one big difference. Erskine Bowles and U.S. Senator Richard Burr were sitting together at the Carolina-Illinois basketball game in Chapel Hill last week.

In case you didn’t get the hint, Bowles, who becomes President of the University of North Carolina in a few weeks, will not be running for an open U.S. Senate seat as he did in 2002 and 2004. His races against Elizabeth Dole for Jesse Helms’s seat and against Burr for John Edwards’ seat brought energy and enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket in both years. The campaigns of Dole and Burr did the same for the Republicans.

In 2006, in North Carolina there will be no U.S. Senate race.

Since there will be no state-wide elections for governor or other elected executives, what will there be to build our enthusiasm?

2. Chief Justice: Unlike 2002 and 2004, there will be an election for the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72 early next year. Governor Michael Easley will appoint his successor, but the state constitution requires a prompt election.

Judicial elections are now non-partisan, at least officially. Although the political affiliations of the contenders are usually known, the races are not the primary rallying points for partisan political activity in other races. But they count. So it will be interesting to see how Governor Easley approaches the appointment of a successor to Chief Justice Lake.

Governors have typically appointed members of their political party in filling supreme court vacancies. Most often, the chief justice is appointed from the ranks of the serving justices.

These considerations put the focus on Justice Sarah Parker, who is the only Democrat currently serving on the Supreme Court. Naturally Parker would like to move up to the chief’s position, but she would have to give up a “secure” associate justice’s seat in exchange for the risk of losing a place on the court should she lose in next November’s election.

Whoever winds up with the appointment from Easley will find a crowd of potential challengers in next year’s election.

3. “Earlier” Primary: In 2006, we will have our primary in May, without the uncertainties and delays that were a part of the 2002 and 2004 elections. These delays were brought about by controversies arising from the legislature’s redistricting after the 2000 census. Next year candidates will have to sign up earlier. So get ready for an election season that will begin next month and continue until next November.

4. U.S Congress--a possible difference: National Democrats are beginning to talk about winning at least one, and possibly two, North Carolina congressional seats now held by Republicans. They may target Republicans Charles Taylor (in the mountains around Asheville) and Robin Hayes (in the Piedmont between Charlotte and Fayetteville.)

National Democrats always talk a good game when they are trying to recruit candidates to run for Republican seats. But the money does not come until and unless the Democratic challenger shows that he or she has a good chance to win.

Representative Charles Taylor has often seemed to be “vulnerable” because he has been the target of a string of accusations in the media about conflicts of interest. But he has always come out on top. Next year’s challenger, Heath Shuler (assuming he wins the Democratic primary) has got some experts believing he could beat Taylor.

Shuler was a North Carolina high school football star who almost won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at the University of Tennessee. Unlike some previous Democratic congressional candidates, his views on guns, abortion and gay marriage are more in line with those of conservative mountain voters than some prior challengers.

Similarly, Representative Hayes may face an opponent with a resume that will be challenging. One of the Democratic prospects is Reserve Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tim Dunn, from Fayetteville.

If either Shuler or Dunn begin to report significant amounts of funds, you will know that they have made 2006 different from 2002 and 2004.


D.G. Martin is the the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Special fundraising programs will preempt NC Bookwatch on December 11. Next week’s (December 18) guest will be Randall Kenan, author of “Walking On Water.”

Upcoming NC Bookwatch programs, all at 5pm, Sundays on UNC-TV:
Dec 18 Randall Kenan Walking On Water
Dec 25 Ann B. Ross Miss Julia’s School of Beauty
Jan 1 Lawrence Earley Looking for Longleaf
Jan 8 Peter Perret A Well Tempered Mind
Jan 15 Timothy Tyson Blood Done Sign My Name

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The 2006 elections - Watch out for the differences
Erskine Bowles ran against Richard Burr for John Edwards’ Senate seat.

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