Time to haul my fractured, cloudy crystal ball out of the closet for a look at what will happen in Tar Heel politics this year.
Dominating the political landscape will be the Senate contest in which Republican Sen. Richard Burr faces re-election in November.
But first the Democrats must choose a challenger in the May primary. The three main contestants are former state Sen. Cal Cunningham of Lexington, Chapel Hill attorney Ken Lewis and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
Cunningham has the backing of the powerful Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the White House, giving him a significant money advantage. Marshall's best hope is to run a feisty underdog campaign with the support of liberals, women and lots of contributors. Lewis, a political novice, is trying to make a huge leap. In the primary, edge Cunningham.
Burr's polling numbers are anemic for an incumbent. It's not that people don't like Burr, but after five years in office, he has yet to make a strong impression. Despite his standing in the polls, Burr is a well-financed, A-list candidate running in a Republican-leaning year. In the general election, edge Burr.
The one true swing congressional district in the state is the 8th, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville.
Freshman Democrat Larry Kissell is already facing a divided party because of his vote against the Democrats' health care plan. Edge Republicans.
Republican candidates are lining up to challenge Triangle Democratic Reps. David Price, Brad Miller and Bob Etheridge. But these are entrenched, well-financed incumbents in Democratic-leaning districts. Edge Democrats.
The North Carolina Senate has been in Democratic hands for 110 years. The Democrats hold a 30-20 lead, and the GOP needs to pick up six seats. With a number of veteran Democrats retiring, this is possible. Would a newly installed Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger begin laying the groundwork for a challenge to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue in 2012? Edge Republicans.
The GOP is looking for a repeat of 1994 when it gained control of the state House for the first time in nearly a century. But House Democrats, who hold a 68-52 majority, are in a stronger position than their Senate colleagues. Edge Democrats.
This is my 17th year of making predictions, and they should be taken with a truckload of salt.
Last year I predicted: that Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker would be re-elected (right); that Attorney General Roy Cooper would enter the Senate race (wrong); that Gene Conti would be named transportation secretary (right); that Dempsey Benton would remain Health and Human Services secretary (wrong); that Perdue would persuade the legislature to raise the cigarette tax (right); that the unions would push through Congress a bill to allow Tar Heel law enforcement personnel to organize (not yet); and Hampton Dellinger and Ripley Rand would be named two of the state's new U.S. attorneys (stay tuned).
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