On Tuesday, it will be four weeks before the Nov. 6 elections – let the countdown begin.
We have had our first debates, more ads than you can shake a stick at, and more than a few motorcades. Here are a few observations:
• North Carolina is still up for grabs in the presidential race despite $59 million being spent in TV ads by both sides here ($35 million by Republicans and $24 million by Democrats). This is not how the Republicans hoped this would play out. They thought this state would be safely tucked way in the Romney fold by now because of the state’s high unemployment and history of voting for Republican presidential candidates. The polls suggest the state is a tossup, although it may lean slightly toward Romney. Democrats are counting on a superior get-out-the-vote effort.
• North Carolina is a battleground state, but it is one of the lesser ones. Except for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, President Barack Obama has not been in the state since April. Romney has yet to make a public appearance east of Greensboro. Both campaigns have cut back their rate of spending here from the summer, when the Republicans went for the knockout blow. States such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Colorado are getting far more attention than North Carolina. Romney needs the state and expects to get it. Obama hopes to get the state but probably doesn’t need it.
• Republican Pat McCrory seems to be the odds-on-favorite to win the governor’s race. Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton has had difficulty finding any traction. He started late and has had difficulty raising money. The political dynamics are working in McCrory’s favor: a sour economy, Democratic scandals and an unpopular sitting governor. After 20 years of Democratic governors – the longest Democratic run east of the Mississippi River – it may simply be the Republicans’ turn in a closely divided state.
• The Republicans’ gerrymandering last year was designed to unseat four Democratic congressmen. Two are already heading out the door – Brad Miller and Heath Shuler. A third, Larry Kissell, is in trouble, with Democrats in Washington beginning to turn off the tap of money to him. The biggest question is whether 7th District Democratic incumbent Mike McIntyre can survive a challenge from Republican state Sen. David Rouzer in one of the most expensive congressional races in the country. It could be close.
• The Republican-controlled legislature is even more unpopular than Perdue, with an approval rating, according to one poll, of 16 percent. But they have constructed bullet-proof seats that are largely impervious to swings of popular opinion. The question is not whether the Republicans retain control of the legislature but by how much.
• One of the most important, but least publicized races, is the contest for the N.C. Supreme Court between incumbent Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, and Sam Ervin IV, a Court of Appeals judge and a Democrat. This race will determine the partisan balance of power on the state Supreme Court. The Republican lawmakers are working to raise a lot of money for Newby, for fear that the laws they pass will be overturned by a Democratic court. But this is a difficult race for the Republicans because the election is officially nonpartisan and the Ervin name still carries some magic.