Commentary

Christensen: Burr content with limited role on national stage

rchristensen@newsobserver.comAugust 29, 2012 

Richard Burr

U.S. SENATE PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDIO

— One might assume that GOP Sen. Richard Burr would be front and center at the Republican National Convention, since he is the ranking Republican in one of the nation's leading battleground states.

But Burr has kept such a low profile that he’s barely been visible. He has no speaking part at the convention. On Wednesday, he was the eighth speaker at the North Carolina delegation breakfast.

Burr says that is fine by him, having co-chaired the platform committee in 2008 and having campaigned extensively across the country last time with his old friend Sen. John McCain.

“I sort of look forward to not having any specific responsibilities,” Burr said just before the convention got under way Wednesday.

But it was only two years ago that Burr defeated Democrat Elaine Marshall, reinforcing his position as the Tar Heel GOP’s most marketable star – and as someone to watch on the national stage. He easily won re-election to a seat that no party had been able to hold since 1968.

Last October, he began an effort to move up to the national stage by announcing his candidacy to become Republican Senate Whip, the second-ranking position. But he abandoned the campaign in the spring.

Burr was also an earlier endorser of Mitt Romney, having thrown his support to the former Massachusetts governor in December.

With North Carolina anticipated to be a battleground state, there was some early speculation that Burr might make Romney’s vice presidential list. But his name was soon eclipsed by politicians from other battleground states, some with less experience than Burr: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Republican watchers suggest that Burr’s name didn’t get more circulation because he didn’t play the game.

Burr doesn’t go on national TV talk shows or hit the rubber chicken circuit around the country, preferring to spend his non-Washington time in North Carolina, said former GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer, a long-time Burr friend. Great strategy for getting re-elected but not necessarily the way to raise your national profile.

Not into self promotion

Carter Wrenn, a veteran Republican strategist, said vice presidential name-dropping is often a function of self-promotion or the work of consultants and staff.

“A lot of guys are out there fanning the flames like crazy, but Burr pretty much ignored the press,” Wrenn said.

Asked about the absence of his name among the great mentioners, Burr responded by quipping: “I think we sometimes forget that John Edwards has probably done a couple of decades’ worth of damage to a North Carolinian on the national ticket.”

In fact, two of the last three holders of Burr’s seat have run for president – Edwards and Democrat Terry Sanford. Only Republican Lauch Faircloth did not run.

“Maybe every other cycle you don’t fall prey to the aphrodisiac of higher office,” Burr said with a laugh.

More seriously, Burr said he sent plenty of public signals early on that he had no interest in being on the ticket.

“I can help President Romney more in the U.S. Senate than I can in his administration, in any capacity,” Burr said. “I am doing what I enjoy the most and what I am the most effective at. I think I was very clear early on that I was not interested, didn’t expected to be vetted, did not want to be vetted, and was not vetted.”

Burr seemed more than satisfied with Romney choosing a fellow conservative wonk and gym rat.

“Gov. Romney could not have made a better pick,” Burr told N.C. delegates Wednesday. “Paul Ryan has been a friend for 14 years. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. That is when Americans will understand how important Paul Ryan’s addition to the ticket was.”

Burr says that the idea of having a geographic balance to the ticket is an outdated view. He said it is far more important that the candidates complement one another regardless of where they are from.

Is state a battleground?

Burr also dissents from the view that North Carolina is a battleground state, even though the two campaigns and their allies have invested tens of millions in the state and the polls all suggest the race is toss-up.

“I said the state was not in play,” Burr said. “I said that five months ago. That is (still) very much my view.”

His theory is that Romney is spending in the state only because the campaign of Barack Obama is spending here and Obama is spending here because the Democrats have a “very difficult time getting to 270 electoral votes otherwise.”

He gave a slightly different take to the North Carolina delegation, saying he hoped that Romney would soon surge in the state, taking North Carolina out of play. If that were to happen, Burr said, it would help the entire Republican ticket in the state.

Burr said he plans to spend as much time during the fall campaigning for North Carolina candidates up and down the ticket.

The Winston-Salem Republican has also spent a considerable amount of time raising money trying to win a Senate majority for Republicans. He has a leadership position with the Senate Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

He also has his own leadership PAC, called the Next Century Fund, which had raised $861,186 as of June 30 and had a cash balance of $437,389. The fund was initially designed, in part, to help him in his bid to become Republican whip.

Some saw his decision to step away from that race as bowing to the inevitable. He was an underdog to Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

But Burr said that being part of the leadership would have been confining and he is now free to pursue policy proposals dealing with the country’s fiscal problems.

“Being part of the leadership and doing bold things doesn’t mix well,” Burr said. “I chose to put myself in a position to do bold things versus serve in the leadership. Right or wrong, I have made the bed I am going to sleep in. I will probably be as troublesome to Republican leaders in the future, but that is the course I have chosen.”

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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