Commentary

Christensen: NC GOP has strong tail winds

rchristensen@newsobserver.comAugust 26, 2012 

  • More information RNC revises schedule Despite Tropical Storm Isaac forcing the Republican National Convention organizers to cancel Monday’s events, the main speakers from that day have been rescheduled for the next three days. To see the complete schedule of speakers, visit www.gopconvention2012.com/news-press/press-releases/republican-convention-releases-revised-convention-week-schedule/

— The North Carolina Republican delegation arrived at the GOP national convention this weekend with a tailwind of its own that had nothing to do with Tropical Storm Isaac.

Normally, when the Tar Heel GOP goes to national conventions, it is hoping for a powerful lift from the national ticket – the kind of coattails provided in the past by a Ronald Reagan or a Richard Nixon.

But not this year.

With significant advantages over the Democrats in money and through redistricting, North Carolina Republicans are in their best position in recent memory.

If anything, the state Republican Party may be in a position to give the national ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan a lift, not the other way around.

“It’s just a complete reverse mirror image of where we usually are – with the presidential race in the bag, and uncertain about how everything else is going to turn out,” said former state GOP chairman Tom Fetzer.

“This year,” said Fetzer, a former Raleigh mayor, “we are going to hold and even add to our Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, elect a Republican governor, and some down ballot races, add a few congressmen – and the presidential race is uncertain.”

It is also a remarkable turnaround for a political party that had to pick itself off the ground since the last national convention in Minneapolis. At this point during the last presidential election, North Carolina Republicans were in the process of losing their first presidential race in 32 years, their national star, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, was headed to defeat, their 20-year lockout of the governor’s mansion was continuing, and Democrats continued their electoral mastery of the legislature and the congressional delegation.

But this year Republicans believe, with good reason, that things are about to change, regardless of what happens at the convention that will begin on a delayed basis on Tuesday because of the storm. State GOP Chairman Robin Hayes of Concord said North Carolina’s 55 delegates and 52 alternates would caucus as scheduled Monday morning at their headquarters hotel at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. New Jersey Gov. Christie is scheduled to address the delegation.

Consider the following:

• Never before has the GOP gubernatorial candidate entered the convention with a significant lead over his Democratic opponent, according to virtually every poll.

Pat McCrory’s large campaign war chest has enabled him to purchase $6.3 million in TV advertising. The Republican Governor’s Association has purchased another $5.2 million. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the Democratic nominee, has purchased $2.6 million.

• The Republicans are expected to hold control of the state legislature, in part because they drew more friendly district lines as a result of reapportionment. Being in power has also allowed lawmakers to raise more money from special interests that in the past gave to Democrats. Senate Republicans have raised 3.5 times more money than Senate Democrats, and House Republicans have raised 1.5 times more than House Democrats.

• The Democrats now hold a 7-6 edge in the U.S. House delegation. But Republicans think they can pick up as many as four seats – which would be the biggest gain of any state in the country – as a result of redistricting.

It is possible that the GOP could hold a 10-3 advantage after the election, with Democrat David Price of Chapel Hill the only white Democratic House representative in North Carolina, and one of the few in the South.

• The change in the legislature, plus the turmoil in the Democratic Party, has led to a huge advantage in resources. The state Republican Party had a war chest of $966,000 as of June 30, while the state Democratic Party had a war chest of $188,000.

Looking more like S.C.

Andy Taylor, a political scientist at N.C. State University, said that if current trends hold, it could reshape Tar Heel politics.

“We are considered by Southern standards a fairly purple state, which is a way of saying a fairly Democratic state, given the large gains the Republicans have made (across the South),” Taylor said. “But those would be superb Republican gains.

“It would put us in line more with deep Southern states. That makes us look a little more like South Carolina than Virginia, a deep Southern state rather than a rim Southern state.”

The political picture is cloudy only in the presidential campaign, where Romney and President Barack Obama are locked in a tight race, according to numerous polls.

Republicans have had a significant advantage in the air wars. The pro-Romney forces have spent an estimated $25 million on TV ads in North Carolina, while the pro-Obama forces have spent an estimated $13 million in the state.

Obama has the stronger ground game with 40 field offices and has organized heavily for the past year. But the Republicans, while starting later, have been upping their game, opening a record 21 field offices.

“That defines the intensity and it also defines the scope of our turnout effort,” said Hayes, a former congressman from Concord. “Put everything else aside, turnout determines elections. People have bought into that voter contact as the key. We have far more folks on the payroll for Romney, the RNC and the North Carolina party helping organize the tremendous additional number of volunteers. We are bringing the team together.

“When we go on the field after Labor Day,” Hayes said, “we have the opportunity to be extremely strong in all phases of the game.”

Focused on unity

Republicans have two goals in the convention: to energize the faithful and to get across their message to undecided voters that Romney would be the best choice.

“They obviously have to come out with some enthusiasm, excitement and unity,” said former state party chairman Jack Hawke, noting that there were signs of that in the large crowds that showed up during the campaign swing that Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made through the state earlier this month.

“They have to get a little bit of a bump in the polls,” Hawke said. “The last month has been horrible for Romney. He has been sinking in a lot of the swing states. They have to turn that around.”

Hawke, like other Republicans, thinks the selection of Ryan will boost the ticket, particularly among the Republican base.

“I think it’s a good choice,” Hawke said. “If it changes the debate to where the country is headed, and the financial crisis, that is good for Romney. He doesn’t want to be defending all these personal attacks through the election.”

Getting to know Romney

The convention will also provide Romney with a chance to do a better job of telling his personal story. A focus group of undecided Walmart Moms held in Raleigh this month found that many had a difficult time connecting personally to Romney. There was a tendency to see Romney as a cold, distant businessman.

Carter Wrenn, the veteran GOP strategist, said he has never seen the North Carolina Republicans in such good shape at this stage of the campaign. But he said the election is being driven by the Obama/Romney race, and there are any number of potential game changers that could affect races up and down the ticket.

“Anybody who is counting their chickens right now,” Wrenn said, “is making a big mistake.”

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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