CommunityPam's House Blend

Bowles (l), lost to Dole in 2002 for Jesse Helms’ seat but is leading in the polls this time around; U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, R-5th District, thinks he’s going to finish strong.

The American Prospect has an analysis of the tighting race for John Edwards’ Senate seat here in NC. Burr is closing in on Bowles.

Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and Winston-Salem Congressman Richard Burr squared off in their only debate on Monday. Both candidates went on the offensive on issues like health care, gay marriage, and, most forcefully, trade. Given the debate’s canned format and the absence of any embarrassing gaffes, it’s unlikely that it changed the dynamic of the race much. And that’s good news for the nerdy Dem from Charlotte with those gigantic glasses.

Indeed, Erskine Bowles has defied near-universal expectations by maintaining a substantial and consistent lead over Burr all the way through the early fall. Observers had all but guaranteed that the race would tighten rapidly by this point, but the last Raleigh News & Observer poll, taken by the firm Research 2000 between September 20 and 22, gives Bowles the same 9-point lead (49 percent to 40 percent) that he’s enjoyed for months now. One source told The Hill that a recent internal GOP poll gave Bowles an advantage of 18 points.

So what gives? Most Carolina politicos chalk it up to a much better organized and focused campaign operation on Bowles’ side, with a candidate at the helm who learned valuable lessons in his unsuccessful 2002 race against Liddy Dole about grass-roots campaigning and tailoring a populist appeal to voters. Meanwhile, Republicans have been grumbling for months now about Burr’s anemic and unfocused effort. They’re beginning to air their worries in public, with fellow North Carolina Representative Walter Jones telling The Hill on Tuesday, “I think in the next 10 days he’s really got to move some numbers.”

That may very well happen. Burr only recently unveiled his first attack ads (as part of a planned GOP blitzkrieg for the last six weeks of the campaign, according to The Hill). It looks like the theme he’s settled on is “all Clinton, all the time,” tying Bowles explicitly to the his old boss’ tax increases and anti-tobacco zealotry and implicitly to every other aspect of Bill Clinton’s tenure that North Carolinians believe to be bad. Burr has $6.7 million ready to unload on TV ads, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee has already reserved $5.3 million in North Carolina ad space to run its own anti-Bowles effort. Meanwhile, the committee just released its own poll this week claiming that the Clinton tarring is already working, with Bowles’ lead reduced to a single, statistically meaningless point (45 percent to 44 percent). That figure should obviously be taken with a major grain of salt, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

Bowles has plenty of money himself, as well as the help of an independent ad campaign being run by the political arm of the League of Conservation Voters, but the fact that he’s had no luck breaking the 50-percent threshold in any poll is cause enough not to get complacent. And, lest we forget, this is North Carolina. As the go-to political expert on Tar Heel politics, Ferrel Guillory of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, puts it, “No Republican Senate candidate here has gotten less than 45 percent in practically 20 years … . You’ve got to say that simply because he’s the Republican candidate and he looks OK, Burr’s going to get 45 points.”

It’s true: Burr does indeed look OK.

To remind folks about the candidates’ stand on gay marriage…

BURR, from his web site, which is prominently listed there as a main issue (“Sanctity of Marriage”):

I support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect the sanctity of marriage. I am a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment (House Joint Resolution 56), which defines legal marriage as being between one man and one woman and places the question of civil unions on individual state legislatures, expressly prohibiting courts from making such decisions.

The will of the people must be heard on this essential family issue and a Constitutional amendment is now necessary to establish the appropriate definition of marriage that represents American values and is written by officials who answer to the electorate.

BOWLES, having served in Clinton’s White House when DOMA was passed, and running in a fairly conservative state (excepting the Triangle, which is a progressive area), has nothing official to say on his site. So, I did a bit of Googling…

* Bowles said during the debate that state laws were adequate and that he would only support a ban “as a last resort.”

* According to the Kinston Free Press, Bowles told a rally there that he was “100 percent” against same-sex marriages.

* N.C. Democrat Spokeswoman Susan Lagana has said Bowles opposes gay marriage (which is against the law in N.C.) Asked if Bowles would vote for the current amendment, Lagana said he would not as long as those other laws are on the books. If they weren’t, he would vote for it.

Bowles has NOT taken a stand on civil unions in any forum. Because of the need to reach both conservative and progressive audiences, you can see Bowles poorly walking the line up there.

Burr has been broadcasting some effective commercials (meaning generically pro-business, socially non-threatening ones, as opposed to the wingnut variety, which would scare off independents).

Of the 5.1 million registered voters, 2.4 million (47%) are Democrats, 1.8 million (35%) are Republicans, 928,450 (18%) are unaffiliated and 10,649 (0.2%) belong to other parties (Newsday).

I think that since the Dem voter turnout is likely to be very high, and Bowles will squeak through, since Burr is just not an option for many people.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding