RALEIGH — The Democrats rolled out their political war horse Friday, four-term former Gov. Jim Hunt, who plans to hit the campaign trail to try to convince Tar Heel residents that President Barack Obama will be a better choice for the middle class.
Dressed casually in a sweater, Hunt began a statewide listening tour talking with a small group of voters in a Raleigh home where the 75-year-old Hunt had a living-room conversation about why he thought Obama would be better for education and better for the economic recovery.
I spent my life trying to build this state, Hunt said. This election is absolutely critical. The choice is clear. I feel really strongly about it. So does Carolyn Hunt. We have 10 grandchildren. We know what is at stake.
In reaching out to Hunt, who last held office in January 2001, the Obama campaign strikingly skipped over a whole generation of Democratic politicians who have been scarred by scandal.
Missing from the campaign trail was the post-Hunt generation of Tar Heel Democratic baby boomers who were either caught up in scandals, such as former Sen. John Edwards or former Gov. Mike Easley, or who are so unpopular, such as current Gov. Bev Perdue, that they are seen as a political liability.
It is a fairly telling statement about the state of the Democratic Party in North Carolina that there are not a lot of bright lights out there that they can rely on, said Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State University. The Republicans in this state have the momentum, and it speaks to a problem for the Democrats that if they have to pull out a popular statewide figure, they have to pull out someone from a dozen years ago.
But Greene also notes that it makes sense for the Obama campaign to use Hunt because he speaks to many native North Carolinians who are registered Democrats but sometimes vote Republican and still admire Hunt.
Even on the campaign stump, Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory talks about how the state has gone downhill under Perdue and Easley, careful not to say anything to offend Hunt supporters.
Hunt began his tour as four recent independent polls show Obama with a slight lead over Republican Mitt Romney in North Carolina. The pace of the campaign is picking up. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to campaign Tuesday in Charlotte and Asheville, and Jill Biden is scheduled to campaign Sunday in Durham. Earlier this week, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley campaigned in Apex, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio campaigned in Charlotte for Romney.
Hunt, who still commutes from his Wilson County farm to his Raleigh law practice at Womble Carlyle, said he plans to spend his Fridays holding these living-room conversations in the major media markets of North Carolina.
They are a far cry from his old rallies, held in town squares, in sweet-smelling tobacco warehouses and in packed high school gyms across the state, where Hunt would give the full-throttled speeches of a country preacher.
In the living room of John and Hayden Constance in the Five Points section of Raleigh, it was a more relaxed, quiet Hunt who talked with about a half-dozen Obama supporters. The Constances recently moved from Washington after John Constances retirement, following a career mainly with the National Archives.
I hardly call it campaigning, Hunt said. Im just out here talking to people.
Hunt said the country nearly went into another Depression, when all but one bank in Wilson County closed.
If this president had not come in with courage, with wisdom about what to do, we would have gone into that Depression, in my opinion, Hunt said. We are now on our way back. I am happy to be out here trying to do my best to help out.
He praised Obamas support for college loans and for preschool programs, while criticizing Romney as someone whose policies favors tax cuts for the wealthy and trickle-down economics.
I think Barack Obama has been one of the great education presidents we have had, Hunt said.
Asked about his chances in the Tar Heel state, Hunt replied, I think the campaign is nip and tuck in North Carolina.
He was joined by his wife, Carolyn, who every Monday night, drives people to the local Obama headquarters to make calls.
We might have lived in the governors mansion, Hunt said, but we think just like ordinary farm people from Rock Ridge.