Dole, disinterest and polling

by Kirk Ross

Senate race is on

Elizabeth Dole, recently spotted hobnobbing, fundraising and campaigning in the mountains with her man, has a challenger now that Jim Neal has made it official.

Neal, a Greensboro native who now lives in Chapel Hill, had been looking at the race for a while. Since he’s worked out of state for much of his career as an investment banker and financial advisor, he’s not a household name among Dems at the local level.

But his Rolodex is packed with Democrats and party supporters at the national and state level. He will tell you he’s in it to win and expect much of his primary campaign to focus on Dole.

He may have that “investment banker” tag, but his politics are more populist than limousine liberal. Like Wesley Clark, whom he backed and raised funds for in 2004, Neal is hopping mad about the impact of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy on the troops, their families and the NC economy.

It’s hard to tell right away how the Democratic field will shape up now that Neal’s stepped forward. Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake), a major in the Army Reserve, is heading to Ft. Bragg for a month and an announcement while on active duty would be awkward. On Monday, state Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Guilford) announced she will not enter the US Senate race.

Local electionzzz

If there were one thing I could change about politics, it would be the dismal level of interest the electorate has in local campaigns. Several years ago I started reporting turnout in my election wrap stories in inverted style. It’s a lot more stunning to note that 85 percent of the registered voters failed to show up for their civic duty than to report that 15 percent did.

In North Carolina, local races seldom see turnout of even a quarter of those eligible, meaning that local officials are ushered into office by a single-digit percentage of the population.

There’s an obvious disconnect between the odd- and even-year elections. Turnout jumps when state and federal officials are on the ballot, but it’s those local boards and commissions whose composition is decided by the handful who vote that determine how much of state and federal policy unfolds.

Poll position

Nothing like polling results for a little Rorschach moment for the partisans and the latest Elon Poll provides just such an event. The latest poll gave us two version of the land transfer tax question. The first one asked people what they thought of the tax. Sixty-seven percent said they were opposed or strongly opposed to having a land transfer taxes in their county. The next question added a qualifier asking what if all the money went to education. The results flipped the stack with 43 percent opposed or strongly opposed and 49 percent saying they support or strongly support the tax.

Nice way to get your poll cited by both sides.