Burr on the rise

by Brian Clarey

How fortunate for us here in the Triad that both of our state’s US senators — two of just 100 in the whole nation — call this place home.

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat and our junior senator, lives in Greensboro and won her first political office here, as a state senator.

But Hagan’s political profile consists lately of in-state visits — to military bases thanking spouses and pledging to bring more defense contracts home, to schools touting her School Turnaround Reward Act, to small communities listening to the people’s concerns.

She is also one of a handful of senators cleared to view the photos of the remains of Osama bin Laden. But right there with her is Sen. Richard Burr, her Republican counterpart to the west. And for him the big reveal was just a footnote on his highlight reel this spring, one that encapsulates his rapid ascent in both the Senate and his party.

It’s easy to forget he’s in just his second term — Burr, remember, beat Erskine Bowles to win the seat vacated by John Edwards, who left to pursue aspirations both vice-presidential and, as it turns out, romantic, and then defended the title in 2010 against current Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, defeating by more than 10 percentage points a woman who once beat Richard Petty in a North Carolina general election.

He’s popular. And he’s on the move. Burr has served on some of the most powerful committees in the Senate: the Armed Services Committee; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and the Energy Committee, which empowered him to introduce a bill that would effectively merge the Environmental Protection Agency with one of its interdepartmental nemeses, the Department of Energy.

And he’s recently been named to the Finance Committee, which controls how the US government pays for things, a powerful slot indeed.

Plus there are whispers that he’s being groomed for a 2012 vicepresidential run of his own.

The mind reels…. Burr would be wasted on the Mitt Romney ticket as just another lantern-jawed, gravitas-laden ideologue. He’d make a good foil for Sarah Palin — a relatively old-school conservative paired with the darling of the GOP’s strong-willed women’s brigade, but frankly we don’t see Burr going down with that ship. Newt Gingrich? Herman Cain? Michele Bachmann?

One might think that having a VP candidate from our home state is a good thing, and it probably is. But one can’t help but think of the last time a local US senator on the rise hitched his wagon to a presidential contender.

But Burr is the anti-Edwards, uninterested in poverty, social justice or, presumably, former New York City party girls.

And he’s got something else that Edwards doesn’t: a shot at the White House. In theory, anyway.

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