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Burr’s gamble

by Brian Clarey

Whatever you think of the healthcare bill, it is now the law of the land, its ramifications for our citizens and the industry to be played out in real time over an arc that stretches as long as six years.

The consequences to the opposing parties, polarized as they are, will come to pass much sooner. The coming election sees a field full of hopefuls, harnessing everything from Obama’s message of hope to frothing Tea Party anger, looking to make their marks.

With the voting public split pretty much down the middle — 49 percent said they “approved” passage of the bill in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted last week — the smartest thing for incumbents to do at this point is to stick with their party.

But in North Carolina, party lines are not so clearly drawn.

True, registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans by roughly 3 to 2. And we officially gained Blue State status in 2008 when we went for Barack Obama. But there are almost as many unaffiliated voters as there are Republicans. And in North Carolina, conservatives and registered Democrats are not mutually exclusive groups.

So, at the risk of coming off as non-committal, many offices on the state and national level is in play.

US Sen. Richard Burr’s Senate seat is seen as vulnerable to the Democratic party — Burr defeated Erskine Bowles in 2004 at the height of the Bush regime to take a seat vacated by John Edwards.

We’re pretty sure Burr would love to be running against the disgraced former presidential candidate from Chapel Hill this year; instead he faces three challengers from his own party in the May 4 primary and if he survives — which is likely — he’ll go against the winner of a six-person Democratic slate in November, a candidate who will be sure to benefit from the national party’s largesse if they smell blood in the water.

Stuck in this unenviable political scenario, Burr’s gambit is to not only toe the party line, but to help draw it. He came under fire last week when, after the initial passing of the healthcare bill, he called upon a little-used parliamentary procedure to halt an Armed Services Committee meeting in which three US generals had flown into the capitol to testify.

It’s a move Senate Republicans have been invoking all week in order to register their displeasure with the healthcare vote, and surely it endeared the man to the national party, on which he must rely for the contributions necessary to defeat a well-funded adversary.

Burr’s gamble is that his Republican base will hold, and he will be rewarded for party loyalty by the voters in November. But recent history gives a caveat: In 2008 incumbent Liddy Dole, a Republican who aligned herself closely with President Bush, lost her Senate seat to Kay Hagan, who was able to capitalize on a push from the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

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